| 2017 |
Polish Nobel Prize-Winners
Junior High School No.4
Contemporary Starachowice was formed from a merger of two towns – an industrial settlement and village of Starachowice with the town of Wierzbnik. In the latter, one could encounter devout Zionist and pious Orthodox Jews – members of a Jewish community that comprised a third of all local residents. Established in the 19th century, Wierzbnik’s Kehilla served Jews from nearby towns, such as Wąchock. Today, they are commemorated by a Starachowice-Wierzbnik Jews Memorial Chamber and an impressive Jewish cemetery with around 500 surviving headstones. In spring 2017, students from Junior High School No.4 presented their excellent input to commemorating the local Jewish history.
At the beginning of the spring School of Dialogue semester, students admitted upfront that they knew very little or nothing at all about Starachowice’s Jews. With the help of Forum’s educators, they were able to acquire most important information about Jewish history and culture, yet this only sparked their curiosity. Students had many questions related to rules of Judaism. A great surprise awaited participants at the end of the second workshop – students were visited by school principal Anna Salamon, Starachowice deputy mayor Jerzy Miśkiewicz, Starachowice-born Łódź rabbi Dawid Szychowski and Agnieszka Malinowska, a PhD student from Jan Kochanowski University specializing in history of Jewish Starachowice. In the course of the meeting, which lasted well over an hour, guests answered many questions related to everyday life of a rabbi, prayers in the synagogue and Jewish holidays.
For their final project, Starachowice students decided to prepare an urban game combining basic information on Jewish culture with the local Jewish history. Before the game’s premiere, the students had done a vast amount of work – both connected to the game’s preparations and to commemorating the town’s Jewish past. They collected information not only from book and internet sources, but also from eye-witness testimonies – students conducted an interview with Mr.Szymon Snopczyński, who still remembers the wartime years, and managed to obtain other written testimonies. Additionally, Ms.Wioletta Sobieraj, deputy director of the town’s Museum of Nature and Technology provided much support.
School of Dialogue participants decided to share their knowledge with all other students of their school. Inspired by the workshop format, they organized their own 15-minute presentations on various topics, including the Jewish cemetery, the synagogue, matzevot symbolism and the School of Dialogue program, which they went on to present to each grade in the school – altogether their audience amounted to some 220 people! Additionally, the school’s corridor and Polish language lab served as exhibition spaces on the history of Jews in Starachowice – with information boards presenting the town’s prewar Jewish population.
The crowning achievement was an urban game organized on June 10 under the title “They Also Shaped the History of Our Town”. Game participants – Starachowice’s scouts and residents joining them along the way – completed the route meeting students in the role of guides along the way. At each of the “stops” – these included the Jewish cemetery, main square, Judenrat building, sites of the former synagogue and work camp – important information on the history of Jews in Starachowice would be presented in various forms and require a task to be completed before participants would receive fragments of the Talmud that they were to piece together at the end of the tour. The resulting quote was “Commit a sin twice, and it will not seem to thee a sin”, which the participants were asked to bear in mind.
In late June 2017, students from Junior High School No.4 received a visit from a very special guest – Mr.Howard Chandler, a Holocaust survivor from Starachowice, who shared his memories and impressions with them.
The meeting, presentations for other students, exhibitions and an urban game are not the last activities for Starachowice’s School of Dialogue participants. They plan to continue their work in the new school year by preparing, among others, a theater play and a contest for best Jewish-themed multimedia presentation.
The commitment and energy of the local youth allowed them to create an impressive project. The comments they shared at the end of the program corroborated their enthusiasm, newly acquired organizational and leadership skills and a vast amount of knowledge on Jewish-related topics. Students declared that the most lasting effect of the program would stay in their hearts. In the words of Aleksandra, one of the workshop participants: “I now feel a part of their history, too. I carry it deep in my heart.”
Polish Nobel Prize-Winners Junior High School No.4
2nd year students
Jerzy Miśkiewicz, Rabbi Dawid Szychowski, Agnieszka Malinowska
Karolina Jastrzębska-Mitzner, Stanisław Niemojewski
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.