| 2013 |
John Paul II Junior High School No 1
Norman the traveling shoemaker, the Honigsfelds – a family of doctors and Jewish Public School Principal Henryk Adler – these people’s stories made junior high school students from Puławy rediscover their town and realize that their school is located in a district that was inhabited by many Jews before World War II.
They learned that the area around the Holocaust memorial stone used to be filled with local Jewish life, with the synagogue at its center. They heard about the title Righteous Among Nations, a title bestowed upon one of Puławy’s residents, Mr. Tadeusz Stankiewicz. In the course of School of Dialogue workshops they also met with local historian Mr. Mikołaj Spóz, who has been collecting archival photographs of Puławy for the past few decades.
First mentions of Jews in Puławy date back to the second half of the 17th century; by the end of the 19th century, Jews accounted for 73% of the local population. On the eve of World War II, their numbers dropped down to 40%.
Jews in Puławy were very active in the social and economic realms; they were merchants, furniture- and shoe-makers. They had their representatives in the Town Council. The Kehilla owned a synagogue, mikveh and a beit midrash. A number of associations, including Talmud Torah, Tarbut and Linas ha-Tzedek operated in the town. All this ended in December 1939, when Germans gave Jews 48 hours to leave Puławy. In subzero temperatures (-30°C, -22°F) a column of 2500 people marched out towards Opole Lubelskie. Many children and old people died along the route. Those who were not able to walk were locked inside Puławy’s synagogue, where they died of hypothermia. In early 1940, another transport took Puławy’s Jews to Nałęczów, Baranów, Ryki I Końskowola. The last of Puławy’s Jewish residents died in 1943 in forced labor camps. Nothing survives, as the prewar Jewish settlements were bombed or destroyed during the occupation. Both Jewish cemeteries were disassembled, with the matzevot used for construction work purposes. The two that survived are now in the Regional Museum.
When Puławy’s junior high school students were presented with the rich yet tragic history of local Jews through School of Dialogue workshops, they changed their perspective on the town. To quote one of the participants: “I now look at Puławy in a different way. When I pass the Teacher’s House I know that a synagogue used to stand there and I see it in my mind. When I walk down Kołłątaja Street, I know that it used to be the address for many shops. When I see ‘Ewa’ pizzeria, I see the oil mill. The town seems different to me now.” What had been pushed to the margin in the collective memory has been brought back to the surface by the students. What had been forgotten has been recovered.
And so, on June 6, workshop participants invited younger students to join their walking tour of Jewish Puławy. The interactive School of Dialogue sessions made tour organizers realize that for their message to get across, it must be interesting, “non-pushy” and suitable for the intended audience. The walking tour thus took the form of an outdoor game. Elementary school students who were invited to participate had to find envelopes with hints that would direct them to next stops on the route.
Students thus visited Kołłątaja Street, which was once inhabited predominantly by Jewish tailors and shoemakers; the latter, according to Mr. Stanisław Zadura, would help turn shoes into ice skates by affixing special metal plates to their soles.
The current café Ewa once was an mill where sunflowers seeds were crushed into oil. Next to it: a barge jetty ran by Mr. Edelman, Jewish bakeries and tenement houses. And next to the harbor gate – a place where Jews would play and sing to the accompaniment of Kiseł’s guitar. A granite boulder on the site of the former synagogue commemorates Puławy’s Jews who perished during the Shoah. One should imagine the building that occupied the space: the lower part in white stone, the upper built of plastered brick. An impressive staircase along the length of the façade led to the entrance. To the northeast – an older synagogue building; to the southwest – the mikveh building. The same street was home to Beniamin Honigsfeld, a jolly doctor who is remembered by local residents as someone who put his motto “Laughter is good for you” into practice. Tzaddik Chaim Izrael Morgenstern also settled in and operated out of Puławy; students were able to establish the location of his home. Finally, participants headed to the former cemetery, which was devastated by Germans during the occupation.
After the workshops students admitted that the mundane and ordinary had turned fascinating; that they now have a new passion, that their town has been transformed in their eyes. That they learned to work as a group. And that they want to pass the knowledge on. That they will tell their families.
I now look at Puławy in a different way. When I pass the Teacher’s House I know that a synagogue used to stand there and I see it in my mind. When I walk down Kołłątaja Street, I know that it used to be the address for many shops. When I see “Ewa” pizzeria, I see the oil mill. Puławy seem different to me now.
John Paul II Junior High School No 1
2nd year students
Adam Gąsecki, Marcin Mitzner
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.