John Paul II Economic School Complex

The local Jewish cemetery is located at the so-called Jewish Mountain at the junction of Jerozolimska and Zamkowa streets. Centuries-old oak trees – “monuments of nature” – testify to the site’s age. Among those laid to rest there is rabbi Akiba Beth Aisch also known as the Fire Tamer; legend has it that he saved the local synagogue from burning down. Rabbi Akiba lived in the 18th century, but first mentions of Jews in Złotów date back to a much earlier period – the 16th century. Two hundred years later Jews accounted for half of the local population. The first synagogue survives until the present day, the second one was torn down in 1938, in the midst of anti-Semitic outbreaks in the Third Reich. The building’s outlines are delineated with a different pavement surface on the square now known as Plac Paderewskiego. Right before the outbreak of World War II, only 5% of the local population was Jewish.

During the first of four School of Dialogue workshops, students proved they know what a synagogue is and who inhabited their town before the war. However, only one person could point out the synagogue – a brick building behind a discount market, converted into and used as a warehouse, currently abandoned. In the course of the workshops, students not only acquired precious information but also engaged in lively discussions. The most significant of the issues discussed was Auschwitz and whether it represents the right sort of commemoration. Students also pondered whether visiting such sites should be mandatory for everyone. On the second day of the workshops, local media got interested in the program and students were paid a visit by reporters from a local TV station. Soon, students became engrossed in uncovering Złotów’s Jewish past.

photo: B.Godlewska, A.Jałosińska

School of Dialogue participants sought assistance at the regional museum (Muzeum Ziemi Złotowskiej) – an institution that they have only now discovered for themselves and come to appreciate. During subsequent sessions, the teenagers joked that museum’s employees must be sick of them, as they keep “inviting themselves over” to seek advice on their project commemorating Złotów’s Jews. Students also visited the Town Hall, where they received some promotional materials that would be used in their urban game – this was the format they chose for their tour of Jewish Złotów. Before the event, students created and distributed eye-catching posters, informed the local media and baked Jewish cookies – hamantaschen. They eagerly awaited the big day they had been preparing for a number of weeks.

From early morning, students were busy with final preparations – decorating the hall, preparing snacks and materials created during the workshops, putting up a banner marking the tour’s starting point.

At 10:30, students welcomed their guests and asked them to use their imagination to move back in time to the 16th century, when first German Jews came to settle in Złotów. Once tour participants had been divided into groups and received envelopes with tasks to complete and maps, everyone set off. Urban game participants were asked to decipher symbols on matzevot, solve a puzzle about various Jewish-culture related questions, come up with a kosher menu and calculate the day’s date according to the Hebrew calendar. They also had the opportunity to tour the old synagogue building, which none of them have visited before, and try Jewish cookies while admiring an exhibition of archival photographs from Złotów.

To document their project work, students shot a film “Tracing Jewish Culture in Złotów”. As they themselves say, School of Dialogue program allowed their group to integrate, learn about things they are not taught in school and uncover their town’s history.

During the sessions we learned that Jews used to live in Złotów. It is here that they developed their passions, fulfilled their dreams and gave birth to new generations. We think it is important to learn about these places and to expand one’s cultural horizons. Through this, we learn to be tolerant and feel empathy for others; we become better people.

Dorota, Monika i Mateusz, workshops participants

We would encourage you to uncover – just as we have – traces of the past in your town. You cannot even imagine what a surprise it is to discover something new you had no idea about.

Agnieszka i Marlena, workshops participants

These workshops contributed to closer bonds within our group.

Ania, workshops participant

photo: B.Godlewska, A.Jałosińska


John Paul II Economic School Complex
Honorable mention:
Finalist at 2012 School of Dialogue Gala
2nd year students
Marek Chołodowski
Małgorzata Chołodowska
Beata Godlewska, Agata Jałosińska

To read more about Złotów 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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In appreciation to Friends of the Forum for supporting the School of Dialogue educational program.

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