| 2012 |
Regional Vocational Education Centre
In terms of the Jewish history of Nisko, the first thing that comes to mind is Operation Nisko – the Nazi plan to create an autonomous Jewish colony supervised by the SS. According to Adolf Eichmann’s plans, Jews were to be transported eastwards by rail – to Nisko. Each train would be guarded by 25 Schutzpolizei officers who were instructed to kill any fugitives. Around 2-3 thousand young Jewish laborers that would be fit to work were to arrive first. They would receive food provisions for several weeks, and when the camp was ready, women and children would arrive. Jews would have to cover the cost of transport and prefabricated barracks out of their own pockets. Soon after the outbreak of the war, Germans began to put the plan into practice.
In October 1939, the first transport of Jews from Vienna, Prague, Katowice and Ostrava – around 1,300 persons – arrived in Nisko. Apparently they were personally welcomed by Adolf Eichmann at the railway station. In 1940, the decision was taken to abandon the project and the camp was closed down on April 13 of that same year. Germans destroyed the Nisko synagogue and Jewish cemetery, and used the matzevot to pave roads. After the war, the cemetery was used for sand mining. At present, its territory remains unused. The synagogue building was redeveloped. At first, it housed a canteen, now – a pizza place. The only surviving element of the small building is the annex with the wooden balcony on top – now, to a large extent, sadly covered with billboards.
“Who has been to the Iguana pizzeria?” the students were asked during the School of Dialogue workshop, and a forest of hands shot up. “And who knows that it used to be a synagogue?”, was the following question – and only a few hands remained in the air. Workshops with Forum for Dialogue educators showed the students another, surprising image of their town – an image that is very difficult to see today, even if you try hard. Apart from the synagogue-cum-pizzeria, no material traces of Jews are left in the town whose Jewish residents comprised 15% of the population.
During the School of Dialogue workshops, students were interested in everything: the Jewish calendar, holidays, kosher rules and multiculturalism. After a meeting with Mariusz Kowalik, a historian of the region, their enthusiasm to discover Nisko’s Jewish past was futher enhanced. Mariusz Kowalik talked about the several occasions when he helped Jews coming to Nisko find information about their ancestors. He passionately spoke about the figure of Dr. Loewy, a pre-war doctor of Jewish origin. Mariusz Kowalik challenged the students to find the matzevah from the doctor’s grave. They later located it in the Catholic cemetery in Barce-Nisko, on the grave of the doctor’s daughter. Connecting the past with the present was also an important aspect: Mariusz Kowalik encouraged them to contact Loewy’s great-granddaughter and send her an account of their project – which they did.
The students’ project commemorating Nisko Jews met with a wide response in the town. On the market day of November 28th, a Wednesday (not everywhere are markets a thing of the past), the workshop participants presented their final project to the inhabitants of the city. They invited representatives of the local authorities, employees of the Community and Arts Centre as well as the management and students of their school to the event.
They organized an exhibition presenting Jewish culture, traditions and religion on the main square. Photographs and short texts were presented on easels. There were photographs comparing pre-war and contemporary Nisko and a biographical note on Dr. Alojzy Loewy. Visitors could also read about Stanisław Wołoszyn, a hairdresser who cut Germans’ hair during the war and hid Ignacy and Jadwiga Gorzyczański in his barn for 14 months, or about the second Righteous Among Nations – Stanisław Puchalski, a clerk who obtained Arian papers for several Jews (thus saving their lives) and hid a 5-year old boy in his house. Students also prepared a food tasting stand: visitors could find out how kosher meals are made, take a recipe home and – after taking part in a quiz – taste various delicacies. There was also information about Jewish holidays and Judaism, and everything was accompanied by a Klezmer Band from Rzeszów. A demonstration of Jewish dances was also organized, with volunteers invited to test their skills on the dancefloor. Passers-by stopped by to go through the exhibition, ask questions about the project, help themselves to the food and to take recipes.
But these were not the only attractions. Students invited the gathered guests to a walking tour following the traces of Nisko Jews. Owing to the lack of material traces of pre-war neighbors, this was quite a challenge – but the students dealt with it brilliantly.
First up, the participants of the tour went to the building of the former synagogue – and now a pizzeria. Students unfurled a banner reading “synagogue” in Polish and Yiddish and presented the history of the place. The next stop was the location of the cemetery: today, a dirt road crosses the area, there are trees, but no matzevot or fence. Therefore, the students symbolically recreated the cemetery: they prepared cardboard models of tombstones and gave their guests stones and paper kippahs. A nice surprise was the account of Bronisław Pelc, who presented a detailed history of the cemetery to the group. The last stop on the route was a railway station with a plaque commemorating Nisko Jews. This is where, several weeks earlier, Claude Lanzmann filmed scenes to his film The Last of the Unjust. Students unfurled a banner reading “Holocaust” and “Shoah” and commemorated the victims with a minute of silence.
The out-of-the-box ideas, variety of activities and enormous enthusiasm demonstrated by the participants of the School of Dialogue in Nisko did not go unnoticed. Students of the Regional Vocational Education Centre received a mention of honor at the 2012 School of Dialogue Gala.
At first, I knew next to nothing about Jews. I didn’t know how much pain they encountered on their path and how unjustly people viewed them. Throughout these few days when I learned about the Jewish customs, culture and history, I realized that they are people whose fate was intertwined with ours.
I was intrigued by the fact that there used to be many Jews in Nisko, yet no-one talks about it now. After the workshops, I want to broaden my knowledge of the Nisko Jews. Maybe I’ll manage to show people, together with my friends, how Jews used to live in Nisko and introduce them to this knowledge.
Regional Vocational Education Centre
Honorable Mention at 2012 School of Dialogue Gala
Anna Geller, Monika Oszmaniec
School of Dialogue program in Nisko was made possible by the support from SYLVIA and DAVID STEINER.
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.