Jan Matejko High School
“There used to be two synagogues here. One stood here, on the road towards Klasne from the Main Square, where you have this little square. The second synagogue is at Klasne and is supposed to be renovated to some extent. There, a bigger community existed – a sort of a younger town, outside of Wieliczka’s center” explains Wieliczka resident Mr. Adam Pietras. The students listen. In a moment they will go see the sites described to them. They will look at them as if seeing them for the first time. Then they will search for archival photographs and read about prewar Wieliczka.
They will learn that Jews had lived in Wieliczka and Klasne (a nearby town that now became a district of Wieliczka) since the Middle Ages. They dealt in salt, spirits, ran their own workshops and stores in Wieliczka’s Cloth Hall.
In the inter-war period, Jewish cultural and religious life thrived in the town, with Jewish political parties and sports clubs. Before the outbreak of World War II, Wieliczka’s Jewish community amounted to ca.4,000 residents, or nearly half of the local population. In May 1941, a ghetto was created in the town; around 7,000 Jews were forced to settle there. Up until 1942 regular executions of ghetto residents would be held at the local Jewish cemetery. In March and April of 1944, the saltmine in St.Kinga’s park became a forced labor camp for Jews. Over 1700 people had been brought to work there. After the war, only a handful of Holocaust survivors came back to Wieliczka.
School of Dialogue workshops sparked students’ interest in the local history, which is reflected in the words of one of the participants: “What interested me the most was discovering the history of the town. It was a valuable and fun experience. Thanks to the workshops I was motivated to get involved and look for new stories”. Students were eager to voice their opinions in group discussions and express their thoughts on issues that came up. “In the course of the workshops we were able to freely voice our opinions and no one judged us. A lot of new information, great fun and integration – these are the words that I can use to describe our sessions” wrote one of the students about the meetings led by Forum for Dialogue educators. During the last workshop, educators invited Ms. Jadwiga Duda – a local activist and municipal librarian who organizes meetings “Wieliczka – Wieliczanie” (“Wieliczka and Wieliczkaners”). Ms.Duda told students about her work, recommended readings about the town’s past and that of its Jewish inhabitants as well as encouraged students to interview Wieliczka’s senior citizens who remember prewar times.
The main part of the students’ project were workshops organized for sixth-graders from the local elementary school, who were invited to participate in a walking tour of Jewish Wieliczka. The project name “Braci się nie traci” (“Brothers are not lost”) is a reference to the message of Pope John Paul II, who would call followers of Judaism “older brothers in faith”. In the course of the tour, students visited the main square, the Old Synagogue and the Jewish cemetery, where they placed hand-painted stones they had prepared earlier.
After the tour, project organizers sent a written report of their activities to the School of Dialogue competition committee, along with photographic documentation and results of the polls made before and after the tour as regards elementary school students’ knowledge about the local Jewish community. Additionally, students included a recording of an interview with Mr. Adam Pietras, one of the residents who remembers Wieliczka from prewar times.
Jan Matejko High School
2nd and 3rd year students
Magdalena Ogieniewska, Weronika Romanik
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.