| 2017 |
Correction Facility and Shelter for Minors
A walk through the town of Koronowo in Kujawy-Pomeranian region of Poland allows one to feel the spirit of the past. A Gothic post-Cistercian complex, 19th-century architecture and picturesque basin of Brda river shift one’s thoughts to times when Lutherans, Catholics and Jews all lived next to each another. Among the most beautiful historical landmarks in Koronowo are material remnants of its Jewish history – the synagogue building and the cemetery. Traces of local Jewish settlement date back to the end of the 17th century, with the 19th century being the peak moment for its growth. At the time, a Jewish school existed in the town and Kehilla members sat on the town council. However, from early 20th century, the numbers began to fall and the town ceased to have its own rabbi. In 1932, Koronów’s Kehilla was dissolved; the synagogue building was sold before the war to Sokół (“Falcon”) Gymnastics Society, which is the reason why it has survived intact to the present day.
Although none of the girls from Correction Facility and Shelter for Minors participating in School of Dialogue workshops is originally from Koronowo or surrounding area, they were all aware of the town’s Jewish past. Those enrolled in Koronowo’s Junior High School No.4 and Vocational School No.2 had participated in many editions of POLIN Museum’s “Daffodils” project and in 2016 joined “Restoring the Memory” program run by Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODŻ).
Thanks to their commitment, the local Jewish cemetery is maintained and the surviving headstones have been cataloged. Girls have also conducted maintenance work in the revitalized synagogue in Bydgoszcz-Fordona, as well as participated in trips to POLIN Museum in Warsaw and Kulmhof am Ner extermination camp in Chełmno.
From the very first workshop in March 2017, it was clear that participants are highly motivated and well-informed about Jewish history and culture. Due to constraints imposed by the Correction Facility, the girls were not able to work freely in the town-space to prepare a walking tour of Jewish Koronowo. Despite this setback, students’ determination and creative thinking proved that any obstacle can be overcome. They decided to film their tour so that they would be able to share the experience with the remaining residents of their correction facility as well as with students from local schools. Additionally, workshop participants prepared Hamantaschen baking classes for their peers in the correction facility, which offered an opportunity to deliver presentations on some of the Jewish holidays. They also organized sewing classes, in the course of which participants made kippahs and learned about the yarmulke-wearing tradition.
The recorded walking tour led through sites connected to local Jewish community, including schools, the newly renovated synagogue building, “Goat Market” (Kozi Rynek), a prison next to the monastery and the Jewish cemetery. Due to lack of archival documents, students were often unable to identify particular buildings, but they managed get over this hurdle as well. For example, thanks to a 1744 map of the town, they were able to locate Łazienna (“Bathhouse”) Street, whose name corroborated their hypothesis as to location of the town’s mikveh. At the Jewish cemetery, a site they knew well from other projects, the girls showed great ease and ample knowledge in their presentation of headstone symbolism and characteristics. The film documenting the tour had its premiere in Koronowo’s Junior High School No.1. After the screening, School of Dialogue participants led workshops for the film’s audience on the Hebrew alphabet, Talmud, yads and other ritual objects and their role in Judaism. There are plans for similar visits to other local schools in the future.
Workshop participants stressed their interest in Jewish-related topics. The School of Dialogue, however, was more than just an opportunity to acquire new knowledge. Girls discussed overcoming barriers connected to public speaking, having the opportunity to share their work with local residents and gaining a sense of belonging to the local community. The girls’ commitment left a lasting impression on Forum’s educators. One participant shared her reflection in a letter written during the final workshop: “Remember, what already happened cannot be changed, but we can shape the present, it is only up to us.”
After a few hours of the workshop I learned a lot about Jews. This really moved me, at some point I even had tears in my eyes. Learning about other cultures is important … I want to thank the people who work in this field, because the new generation should really be presented with this knowledge.
As I sat and listened, I realized how little I had known about Jews, I literally had no idea about them. But after the workshops I know a lot and can say a thing or two, if anyone asks. Or if someone says something which is false, I will be able to speak up and prove that the truth is different.
I learned how I can preserve the memory of people who died in my country and that there are a number of organizations that can help me with this. You can organize a walking tour through Jewish sites or clean up the Jewish cemetery. Seemingly small things that mean so much, both to us and to Jews. I would like Poles to learn about and become more involved in the history that had happened in Poland, so that it is preserved, but also so that we can change opinions of Jews about our country. I would like the trips to Poland to not only present the horrible camps, but also the youth here that remembers about the ancestors of our ‘neighbors from the world’.
Correction Facility and Shelter for Minors
group of female students from different years
Beata Godlewska, Jolanta Goździk
In appreciation to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) for supporting this educational program. Through recovering the assets of the victims of the Holocaust, the Claims Conference enables organizations around the world to provide education about the Shoah and to preserve the memory of those who perished.
In appreciation to Friends of the Forum for supporting the School of Dialogue educational program.