| 2017 |
High School Complex No.11
Surprisingly enough, the first Jewish person to be mentioned in Zabrze’s town chronicles was Ignatius Marcus, who converted to Christianity in 1771. The discovery of black coal at the end of the 18th century (done by Salomon Isaac, a Jewish merchant hailing from Brabant) fueled the development of Silesian municipalities, including that of Zabrze, which became the headquarters for the first state-owned coal mine. Up until 1872, Jews of Zabrze belonged to Bytom’s Kehilla. In mid-19th century, their population was on the rise, which was also reflected in the number of Jewish entrepreneurs contributing to the town’s growing industry. The Romanesque Moorish-style synagogue was burnt down during Kristallnacht that brought about organized persecution of Zabrze’s Jewish population. Few traces from prewar Jewish presence survive today – a plaque commemorating the site of the synagogue, the Kehilla building with a David Star on pl.Warszawski and a Jewish cemetery with many headstones still in place.
Students from Bilingual High School no.3 of the School Complex No.11 in Zabrze began the quest of uncovering the – previously unknown them – history of Zabrze’s Jews in spring 2017. From the outset, they were very positive about School of Dialogue project and educators, showing a lot of incentive and involvement in the subject matter. They held long discussions with their educators about topics including the position of the rabbi in the Jewish community, autonomy of Jewish communities, kashrut, use of matzevot as building material during and after World War II, bench ghettos and numerus clausus quotas.
Students decided to prepare a walking tour which would present the history of Zabrze’s Jews while taking into consideration the Silesian and German local context.
Students went to great lengths in preparations for the role of tour-guides through Zabrze’s Jewish past and seeking out relevant information. Not only did they manage to obtain archival photographs and detailed publications on the subject matter, but also they reached extraordinary individuals who would be able to share additional information. And thus, in the course of preparing the walking tour for School of Dialogue project, they organized open lectures by Leader of Dialogue Dariusz Walerjański, a scholar passionate about history of Jews in Upper Silesia and pro bono caretaker of the local Jewish cemetery; Ms.Krystyna Weigl-Albert, who presented the story of her grandfather Rudolf Weigl, recipient of the title Righteous Among the Nations medal, and Mr.Piotr Hantyszyn, historian from the local Municipal Museum as well as creator of the Dictionary of Zabrze’s Jews. Students were also able to organize a meeting with Mr.Herbert Mynarek (b.1925), graduate of the Male Gymnasium that was the predecessor of present-day High School No.3. Mr.Mynarek talked about the school’s long traditions of tolerance, the growing anti-Semitism of the 1930s and his recollections of the Crystal Night – the burning synagogue and his Jewish classmates disappearing one by one.
Students were able to conduct their walking tour three times – for two junior high school grades as well as for a group of French schoolchildren visiting Zabrze on an exchange program. Tour participants had a chance to hear about Jewish teachers working in their school before World War II, see tombstones of local Jews and learn about the biography of Julius Kochmann – famous liquor producer and owner of the town’s most beautiful hotel. Especially the German-language class was fascinated by his story and curious to learn about connections between local Jews and German history and culture. To commemorate their project, School of Dialogue participants decided to plant a tree with a time capsule right under it and to paint the name of their project onto the school’s courtyard (Mapamięci – “Memory Map”).
Learning about Jewish-related topics is just one aspect of School of Dialogue workshops. Participants appreciated the opportunity to integrate with other students and to learn more about themselves as well as stressed the importance of history. To quote one of Zabrze’s School of Dialogue graduates: “History is history and we won’t change it, but remembered history, even if it is cruel and painful, gives a chance for a better future.”
I feel like these sessions have changed me. I would sometimes think about the people around me, about the world we shape together and its dimensions. But never before did I realize how tiny things can make a great impact. I want to change the world, I always did, I just didn’t know how. And it would be enough to start with myself – to open my own eyes in order to help open them for others.
High School Complex No.11
1st year students
Piotr Hnatyszyn, Dariusz Walerjański, Krystyna Weigl-Albert
Ada Bryś, Katarzyna Niewczas
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.