| 2017 |
Polish Olympians Junior High School
in School Complex in Stawiszyn
Even though the Jewish community of Stawiszyn was only established in mid-19th century, it is believed that Jews had lived in the town and its surroundings much earlier. The first period of the official Jewish presence in the town, that is the years 1850-1860, was a time when the multi-cultural and multi-religious town was inhabited by Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, and Eastern Catholics. The Jewish population was gradually growing; in 1921 there were 672 Jews living in the town (over 30% of the total population), and in 1939 – as many as 800. Nowadays, the only preserved trace of the Jewish community is the cemetery located in the nearby village of Kiączyn Stary, with a number of matzevot with Hebrew inscriptions.
Very few sources on the Jewish community of Stawiszyn have been preserved, which meant that the 2017 spring edition of the School of Dialogue constituted quite a challenge for its participants. Fortunately, the dedication and eagerness of students from the Polish Olympians Lower Secondary School clearly proved it possible to achieve a great deal with very limited resources. Once the tutors from the Forum gave them general information on Jewish history and culture and guidelines on project work, the lower secondary class IIa started working on their own way of commemorating their Jewish neighbours.
The students created an incredibly detailed and complex project composed of a number of stages. Their activities incorporated: planning and organising a tour, carrying out a street survey, as well as recording interviews with inhabitants of Stawiszyn and the local authorities. The students also cooperated with the Town Hall.
The tour “Travelling in Time. Discover the Jewish Past of Stawiszyn” was preceded by thorough research and prepared on the basis of reliable materials provided by local researchers of Stawiszyn’s history. One of the sources used by the students was a publication by Czesław Matyjak, an enthusiast of Stawiszyn and a long-time principal of the local school. They also used source documents concerning the Jewish community of the town and worked with an expert on the history of Stawiszyn, Mr Jerzy Widerski. At the beginning of the tour, the expert gave a speech on the Judaica and documents collected in the Museum of Stawiszyn. The route of the tour featured such spots as the former site of the synagogue, the main square of the town, the area of a World War II forced labour camp, and the cemetery in Kiączyn Stary. This mobile history lesson was concluded with a symbolic commemoration – stones were laid on the preserved matzevot.
Apart from educating the participants of the tour on the history of their Jewish neighbours, the students also managed to make a strong impact on their local community. Thanks to their close cooperation with the Town Hall, it was decided to mark the Jewish cemetery on the official map of the municipality. Moreover, the local authorities have started to discuss the issue of providing maintenance for the cemetery, as well as carrying out restoration works and marking the sites connected to the local Jewish community.
Thanks to the dedication and determination of students from the lower secondary school in Stawiszyn, the Jewish history of their “little homeland” will remain an important and visible feature of the local landscape. The School of Dialogue equipped them with a set of tools which allowed them to not only make an impact on the reality which surrounds them, but also to look at certain issues from a fresh perspective. As stated by one of the participants of the workshop, “The project taught me that you should not accept the stereotypical image of other people, but explore their culture, tradition, and talk to people of other nationalities or creeds”.
Polish Olympians Junior High School in School Complex in Stawiszyn
Aneta Ceglarek, Hanna Zielińska
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.