| 2015 |
Zamoyski Junior High School No 2
It is no secret that Włodawa is a town of three cultures. One of the three is the Jewish culture. And this is what the junior high students from Włodawa were learning about – happy and difficult times in Jewish history. In the framework of the School of Dialogue program, they organized a walking tour in the footsteps of the Jews from Włodawa, as well as a school exhibition and a Jewish-themed event in the synagogue in Włodawa. In the interwar period, Jews made up more than 60% of town’s residents, yet most of them died in a nearby death camp in Sobibor. The Jewish heritage in Włodawa is rather well preserved, which is the case in only few towns in today’s Poland. There are two cemeteries, several houses of prayers, and the Great Synagogue with a beautiful Torah ark and a perfectly recreated melamed room.
There have been several initiatives referring to the Jewish history undertaken in Włodawa (namely, the project Memory of the Place which consisted of oral history collection about the Jews from Włodawa, as well as the In Posterum project to write down the history of the Jewish cemeteries), yet this time the initiative was undertaken by young junior high students.
The entire group of students got involved in the project. The subject got them very interested, therefore they prepared an exhibition about the culture and history of the Jews from Włodawa. “I became interested by the history of my own town”, said one of the students.
“I am happy to be able to pass that knowledge to other generation”. The exhibition was presented at the school’s hall. Moreover, the students paid a visit to a witness to history, Mr. Mieczysław Stupka, who told them about the town before and after the war.
Another project undertaken by the students was a walking tour that included the most important places in the history of the Jews from Włodawa. The tour was themed around two aspects: life and death, joy and grief. The first part of the tour concerned the time before the World War Two – it related to the history of the Jews from Włodawa, their everyday life, traditions and customs. The route included the Włodawka river, the town’s square, the synagogue, the mill and Mr. Stupka’s house. The second part related to the extermination. The route included the ghetto, the cemetery and the place where the Jews were rounded up before being taken to the death camp in Sobibor. The students were very well prepared. They showed old photographs of the life in the town and gave the tour participants, mainly their family members, some necessary tools, like a tour map, a paper kipah needed to enter the cemetery, an inscription of the town’s name, Włodawa, in hebrew, and some stones to place at the gravestones at the cemetery. The students also prepared snacks for the participants – matzos and challahs.
The students did an excellent job – they took upon themselves the responsibility and were very much involved in the work. The participants were very pleased with the event. They all admitted that their knowledge about the history of their town expanded. The students’ project inspired one of the moms to read more about the Jewish history, another one helped with baking matzos and challahs.
The final stage of students’ project was a Jewish-themed event in the Great Synagogue of Museum of Łęczyńsko-Włodawski Lake District. Through songs and poems the audience could learn about the trade, a rabbi, a tzaddik or Jewish holidays. The students also showed the traditional dance. Memories about the everyday life of the Jews from Włodawa were read out loud, one of them concerned the observance of Shabbat:
Shops and blinds were already closed. “Sze-le-chaim”, he shouted. As soon as he lit the candles on Friday night, he would no longer sell, the store was closed. They would not want to sell anything or even take money in their hands. There were Jews living on our street, one of them was Abrum, the store owner.
We would buy sugar or oil (there was no electricity at that time), and he would give it to us. “Take”, he would say, “but bring the money the next day. Today, I do not take money in my hands”, he said. That was their holiday. The junior high school students invited to the event their older friends, graduates of the school. They performed a song by Wojciech Młynarski about lost Jewish communities. It is very likely that the Jewish- themed event become a part of the Museum’s program.
The students involvement and hard work to bring memory of the Jewish community cannot be overestimated. They also changed their own perspectives: “I see Włodawa from a different angle now, a town where Jews used to live. After these four workshops, whenever I pass by the places related to the Jews, I will think about them.” As a group of young activists, with the support from the Regional Museum, local historian Krzysztof Skibiński and their parents, they did a lot to bring back memory about the Jews of their town. One of the students, Marcin, even wrote a poem to call everyone to remember.
Zamoyski Junior High School No 2
Finalist at 2015 School of Dialogue Gala
1st year students
Jolanta Goździk, Maria Pawlak
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.
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.