Jan Kasprowicz High School
It is difficult to indicate the exact date when Jews settled in Kutno. It might have been the 14th or 15th century. What is certain, though, is that in the 19th century the Jewish community was so large that it accounted for 70% of the town’s population. Jews had different professions, some were well off, others quite the opposite. They had a brick synagogue, a Jewish hospital and a Chevra Kadisha. Jehoszua Trunk, also known as Star Szyja Trunk, was the most famous rabbi from Kutno. The Jewish community started to dwindle at the beginning of the 20th century, because of the First World War and emigration, and later because of the Holocaust. What remains today is a monument in the place of the Jewish cemetery, names of several streets and the yearly Sholem Asch Festival – as Kutno is the birthplace of this distinguished writer and playwright.
The high school students from Kutno who participated in the School of Dialogue workshops already had basic knowledge about their town’s history and had some idea about the Jewish community that used to live there. However, they wanted to know more and were therefore very eager to participate in the workshops. They tried to get as much information as possible from the Forum educators: they asked about the rules of kashrut, about Jewish customs and culture. They wanted to know what Jews do in the synagogue and how they pray. They also inquired about present-day Israel and everyday life of modern Israelis. They prepared a walking tour through Jewish Kutno to share their knowledge with others, to show them what they had learned. During the preparations they took photographs of all the places included in the tour, for comparison between the past and the present.
The high school students invited their colleagues from junior high and people from the office for the promotion of culture. Their intention was to show how big role Jews played in pre-war Kutno and how much they contributed to the development of the city. It was not their first time as local tour guides, however.
Already at the fourth and last School of Dialogue workshop, they had a chance to lead their tour for a group of American Jews. It posed an additional challenge to the students, making it a memorable experience for the organizers and participants alike.
The walk started in the place where the synagogue is commemorated, next to which the mikveh, kehilla building and a Jewish school used to be located.
Afterwards they went to Królewska Street, which nowadays is the city’s main promenade, but before the war was mainly inhabited by Jews. Later, they stopped by the former house of Sholem Asch. The tour concluded in a symbolic place – by the gate of the old sugar factory on Mickiewicza Street, where the ghetto was located during the Second World War. Circa 8,000 Jews were resettled there, not only from Kutno, but also from the whole county. The liquidation of the ghetto took place in 1942 and its inhabitants were transported to the Kulmhof extermination camp.
The students also invited their tour participants to the school building, where an exhibition about the pre-war history of Kutno Jews was displayed. It was organized with the help of the Municipal Public Library.
I have never been interested in these issues, so these classes enabled me to find out a lot of interesting facts. I certainly would not come across this information on my own initiative. I also found out how many interesting places related to the Jewish culture are to be seen in our town.
Jan Kasprowicz High School
Honorable mention at 2011 School of Dialogue Gala
Grażyna Baranowska, Janusz Pawlak
Małgorzata Jastrzębska, Agnieszka Witkowska-Krych
School of Dialogue program in Kutno was made possible by the support from IRENE PLETKA.
In appreciation to Friends of the Forum for supporting the School of Dialogue educational program.