Irena Sendlerowa High School

The amount of information they collected is so vast that students are currently working on a book; altogether, they created a Word document that is a few dozen pages long as well as two separate PowerPoint presentations. Thanks to the School od Dialogue workshops, Tarczyn’s high school 1st and 2nd year students became experts on the Jewish heritage of their town, to the extent that they were able to correct mistakes they found online at Virtual Shtetl, Poland’s largest website documenting Jewish history. “Our publication shows not only the joy that came from our research, but also the difficulties we encountered; it documents the transformation that happened in Tarczyn and – so we say in confidence – in ourselves. We all learned through this project more about our town’s history, but also – and perhaps first and foremost – we learned about ourselves” write the students in their book’s preface.
Earlier, in the course of School of Dialogue workshops, students got acquainted with Jewish culture and history, learned to work in groups, hold constructive discussions, as well as plan and organize their work. During the third session with Forum’s educators, Ewelina Bartosik and Karolina Jastrzębska-Mitzner, they visited the local Jewish cemetery. The deplorable state of the cemetery, with matzevah fragments under piles of trash, came as a shock to the students. Ola, one of the girls, noticed an object decorated with four Magen Davids laying on the ground.

It might have been a fragment of a suitcase or piece of clothing; her find is hard to identify and is not the only object left after Tarczyn’s Jewish community.

Jews lived in Tarczyn from late 18th or early 19th century. They traded cattle and grain, worked in workshops and depots. The Bornsztajns owned mills, the Walensztajns owned smithies; Tarczyn was where travelers on their way to Warsaw or Krakow would stop to change horses, rest, eat a meal in an inn. Next to what is now the post office, Ms. Nutkowa ran a textile store; nearby, Mr. Berselik had his liquor store and Mr. Gidalie his bakery. In prewar times, Irena Sendler came here to visit her grandparents for summer holidays, Mrs. Feuerstein had a shoe- and boot-making workshop. The Chaim family lived at 10 Błońska Street. Before World War II, Jews comprised 60% of the local population. In early 1941, all of them were deported to the Warsaw ghetto; soon afterwards, most of them perished in Treblinka death camp. Mr. Feuerstein’s daughter survived, but she never saw her parents again. The Chaims’ oldest son escaped from Tarczyn two days before the deportation; the youngest one was hidden at a nearby farm. Tarczyn’s high school students are able to recount their life stories in minute details.

fot. Ewelina Bartosik, Karolina Jastrzębska-Mitzner

In the course of research for the publication and the Jewish Tarczyn walking tour, students received ample assistance from local historian, Mr. Zbigniew Budnicki, who provided them with readings and prewar photographs. Thanks to him, students could prepare an exhibition presenting prewar Jewish sites in Tarczyn. They juxtaposed these archival photographs with contemporary ones, to show the dramatic difference and the rift created in Tarczyn’s community, architecture, as well as common memory. Five of them walked around the town and asked its residence about Tarczyn’s Jewish past. They visited a shop and municipal police station, they talked to passersby and a homeless man, who proved to be the most knowledgeable about Tarczyn’s Jews. “This poll turned out to be exceptionally difficult for us. We met many people who refused to talk with us. It turned out that a large group of Tarczyn’s residents have no idea about the history of our beautiful town,” say the students. To those who talked to them, they handed out leaflets with a quote by Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert: “a nation that loses memory loses its conscience”.

There were people who were more than willing to talk about those who once had been their neighbors. Students conducted interviews with Ms. Regina Kaniewska and the aforementioned Mr. Zbigniew Budnicki.

They heard about Tarczyn’s ghetto, surrounded by barbed wire and located where apartment blocks of “Ustronie” residential area now stand; they heard about the deportations on trucks that never brought anyone back… About the demolition of the mikveh organized in communist times as “community action work”; and about being friends with Irena Sendler.

In preparation for their walking tour, students designed a poster advertising the event as a walk “through memories about the old Tarczyn”, created a presentation about Jewish Tarczyn and even rented audio equipment from a local priest. On November 30, they took their guests on the tour they had worked so long to prepare, visiting the site of the former Jewish school and the rabbi’s house. They went to the sites of the mikveh and the synagogue. They made a stop at the market square and the area that became the ghetto under the German occupation. All the while explaining to their guests about the buildings that once stood in all these sites. After their tour, they wrote: “We are happy and proud of what we managed to uncover. We rediscovered our town, gained new knowledge and learned about ourselves, making interesting acquaintances.”

As a member of the group documenting life stories of local Jewish families, I was very surprised by their fate. Reading them gave me a very acute and emotional sense of history.

workshops participant

I learned much more about Jews through these workshops than in history class.

workshops participant

Now I perceive my route to school or church differently. I know where Jews used to live, where they spent their time. I learned that a ghetto existed in the place I call my home.

Natalia, workshops participant

These workshops changed my attitude toward the Jewish community. They helped me understand many things, made me reflect on their history. I no longer represent anti-Semitic views and have become more open to another culture.

Magda, workshops participant


Irena Sendlerowa High School
Honorable Mention:
Honorable Mention at 2015 School of Dialogue Gala
1st and 2nd year students
Anna Krupa
Ewelina Bartosik, Karolina Jastrzębska-Mitzner

To read more about Tarczyn 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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Program co-financed from the funds granted by Citizens for Democracy program, financed through the EEA grants.


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

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