Vocational and Artisanal School

“From the found drawings we learn that Mechel Zweig was a fourth-year student, so in 1938 he was 11 years old. Mechel attended all the classes at school, apart from religion. Based on the information we managed to collect, Mechel was a really good student and when compared to other children, he was doing well. If it had not been for the War, his father would have certainly had him go to Yeshiva, being a Jewish high school, in Tarnów or Dębica”, said students-tour guides while standing by the building of a pre-war school.

They centred their student project around a walking tour which they decided to organize in an original manner. They titled it “Following the Footsteps of Mechel Zweig”, i.e. a Jewish boy whose drawings were found recently after 70 years on the attic of one of the houses. This unique discovery gave an idea to write down a scenario of a tour as a symbolic day of Mechel’s life, who was one of many Jews living in Pilzno, but not many people remember them today.

Jewish people arrived in Pilzno in the mid-16th century and in approximately 1880 they constituted around 26% of the total population. The kehilla that established in the town and governed two synagogues, a mikveh, a cheder and a few Hassidic prayer houses – the biggest group constituted Hassids related to Szlomo Halberstamem, a tzadik from Bobowa.

Jews mainly dealt with trade and craft. They were also members of many social and political organisations. In 1939, there were 788 Jews living in Pilzno. The same year, the Nazis completely destroyed the synagogue, the mikveh and the cheder. A ghetto was established in June 1942, and in August 1942 its liquidation began. The majority of Jews from Pilzno died in the camps in Bełżec and Oświęcim. The cemetery is the best preserved trace of the local Jewish community; it was renovated thanks to Josef Singer, the last surviving Jewish resident of Pilzno who visited the town. Even today nobody knows what happened to Mechel and the Zweig Family. When he drew the pictures, he was 11, so he was just a little bit younger than today’s junior high school students to whom the tour was addressed. It involved a walk around places related to the history of Jews: the place where the synagogue once stood, a market square and streets with town houses where Jews lived, and their shops, the cemetery and the ghetto. In the meantime, they discovered that an inscription reading “Kosher Shop Zachariasz S…“! (probably: Siaja) emerges from underneath the coats of paint on one of the buildings. They also showed pre-war photographs of houses to compare how the house looked then, a few decades ago, and how it looks now.

photo: A.Gąsecki, A.Geller

To ease the situation but also to arise interest, tour guides asked their guests questions in the form of a quiz.

One of the spots along the walk included a building of a former Braum’s patisserie: “The busiest time was during Chanukah, Mechel did like this holiday, just like children his age” – it was here that the participants learned the history of the Maccabean Revolt, a miracle related to olive used to light a menorah at the Temple, and were presented to several traditions related to the celebrated Chanukah holiday. Then, tour participants were treated with dishes of Chanukah celebration: “rugelach”, “cenci”, knish with buckwheat and mushrooms, doughnuts and Chanukah geld – chocolate coins.

The second part of the event involved the exhibition of drawings made by Mechel which were exposed at the cultural centre. In a film made by students during the walking tour and at the opening of the exhibition, young guides explained: “Drawings were made with crayons, paints or pencil. They present plants, animals, Poland’s Wedding to the Sea, rams with white and red flag, a small hill where children went down on their sledges, and even painted eggs in a basket and a Christmas tree. All the drawings have a full name written thereon, student’s year, date and town indications.

Therefore, we can conclude that the drawings were made between 1938 and 1939, and Mechel was in the fourth-year then. Each drawing has a frame which confirms whether it was made out of imagination, from illustration or upon presentation. After a while, a drawing title was made thereon. What proves interesting is the origin of Catholic motives in the drawings made by a Jewish boy, as Jewish children did not attend religion classes. Unfortunately, no one knows anything about the life of Mechel and his family. Ms Jolanta would like to return the collection of Mechel’s drawings to his relatives but she does not know anything about them as well.”

Students also made a film and prepared a presentation to show their efforts in implementing the project, i.e. workshops with Forum for Dialogue educators, fragments of interview recordings. The school principal also helped to contact the elderly residents of Pilzno (students recordinged interviews with them) and covered the costs of printing and framing copies of Mechel’s drawings and photographs of former Pilzno from school funds. The school also organized meetings with a historian from the Institute of National Remembrance. Unfortunately, due to the lack of space, the exhibition of Mechel’s work lasted quite short, but maybe it will be possible to organize it again in the future.

As a part of the program we organized a tour of sites related to the local Jewish community in our town. We presented the ghetto area, synagogue, cheder, the Jewish cemetery and we managed to locate a few shops that belonged to the Jewish residents of our town. I was chosen to serve as a main guide on the tour … and I think I will do a good job.

Mateusz, workshops participant


Vocational and Artisanal School
Honorable mention:
Finalist at 2012 School of Dialogue Gala
1st and 2nd year students
Małgorzata Szatkowska
Arkadiusz Więch
Adam Gąsecki, Anna Geller

To read more about Pilzno visit Virtual Shtetl:


School of Dialogue program in Pilzno was made possible by the support from CAROL PATRICIA WILLIAMS and KENNETH TURAN.

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.

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