High School Complex No 1

When first Jews started to settle in Olsztyn in the 19th century, the town was known under the name of Allenstein and was located within the boundaries of East Prussia. Despite the relatively recent arrival of Jews in the area, the town boasts rich history of the local Jewish community. Most Jews living in Olsztyn made a living off of trade and crafts, and many of them were active participants of the social life of the town. Jews were eager to provide aid for poor inhabitants of the town regardless of their creed, they would even fund the purchase of religious object for Catholic churches! Thanks to the swift development of the local community, Olsztyn would soon become a regional centre of Jewish life – the seat of the Association of East Prussian Synagogues. There are several sites in the town which have preserved the memory of the Jewish history of Olsztyn – these are private houses and public venues, as well as a cemetery with restored funeral house designed by Erich Mendelsohn.

Are students from a Biology and Chemistry class able to temporarily put their interests to the side and convert into bona fide humanities-oriented historians? As it turns out, of course they are!

The inspiring history of their town was, without a doubt, one of the reasons why the first-year high school students attending the School Complex No. 1 in Olsztyn took part in the 2017 workshops organised by the School of Dialogue. At the classes conducted by the tutors from the Forum for Dialogue, the high school students were given general information on Jewish culture and history and instructed on the methods of project work. The workshops fully prepared them for the upcoming work on their competition entries.

The students approached the process of collecting information with appropriate care and diligence. They consulted municipal libraries, the Borussia Foundation, the Museum of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, local activists. They also organised a promotional campaign: they designed posters, flyers, and leaflets which they delivered to the Tourist Information centre and handed out to tourists. With the use of the numerous available sources concerning the history of Olsztyn, the high school students wanted to make their own contribution to the subject and create something completely from scratch.

photo: A.Ceglarek, M.Pawlak

They decided to organise an urban game for lower secondary school pupils, which they named “Following the Traces of Olsztyn Jews”.

The participants of the urban game visited various sites of importance for the Jewish community of Olsztyn and faced a number of tasks and challenges given to them by guides clad in period costumes. Their creativity knew no bounds – at the birth place of the famous architect Erich Mendelsohn, the pupils had to complete a task using toy blocks! Having finished the game, the lower secondary school students admitted that they had discovered a completely new aspect of the town’s history. Most of them had never been inside a Jewish funeral house before, nor had they known the location of the two synagogues which have since been converted into lay buildings completely disconnected from their traditional past.

The project gave the high school students from Olsztyn an opportunity to delve into new fields of knowledge and reflect on complex topics. The recurring theme in their comments on the workshop was Jewish life – traditions and history which they had known nothing about. As stated by one of the participants of the workshop in Olsztyn: “Usually we only talk about Jews in the context of the Holocaust and the ghetto. We should consider whether we would like to be described and presented in a similar manner. Not as people of certain ethnicity cultivating certain traditions, but a group which others attempted to get rid of.”

I was deeply moved by films showing families discovering their Jewish roots. In my opinion it’s amazing to discover the history of our grandfathers or relatives, who we didn’t know.

Workshop participant

The workshops have inspired me to search for historical knowledge, information about my town’s community, but also about Judaism. I hope I won’t lose my enthusiasm and I will the sources that educators showed us.

Workshop participant

This is not just another boring project. That’s something that got us involved, absorbed, enabled us to see things in a different light.

Workshop participant


High School Complex No 1
first year students
Grażyna Budzyńska
Aneta Ceglarek, Maria Pawlak

To read more about Olsztyn visit Virtual Shtetl:


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.

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In appreciation to Friends of the Forum for supporting the School of Dialogue educational program.