Karol Miarka High School No 1 with bilingual classes

The earliest mention of Jews in Żory dates back to the year 1511, when purchase of a “Jewish plot of land” was recorded in the Land Use Registry. It remains unclear if the plot of land was a Jewish cemetery or not. Either way, a few decades later – during Habsburg rule starting from mid-sixteenth century – Jews were forced to leave the town. They returned in the 1720s and since then, the local Jewish community started to develop. A synagogue was built and a cemetery opened. At the turn of the 20th century, many Jews migrated to Germany. Even more left after 1921, when Żory became part of Poland. On the eve of World War II, the town was inhabited by only 10 Jewish residents. The Jewish cemetery and synagogue building at Kościuszki Street exist to this day, although the latter was vandalized by Germans and rebuilt as a movie theater later on.

Workshop participants were astounded to learn about the cinema building’s original function. This information made them realize how little they know about the history of their town, or – as the students put it – “We were surprised that even though we’ve spent all our lives in Żory, information from our educators came to us as a surprise. A turning point for all of us was learning that Old Town Cinema (Kino na Starówce) was built on the ruins of the synagogue. This information came to us as a shock.”

Students decided to check how much other Żory residents know about the history of their town. They asked questions about minorities inhabiting  Żory, percentage of Jewish population in the town, Jewish culture. Students admit that conducting a street poll was quite a challenge for them: “to initiate contact was for us a big step in overcoming interpersonal barriers”. But there were more tasks to come.

What needed to be done was to collect available information about the history of Żory’s Jews, as well as sites and traces relevant to their presence in the town. To find old photographs, to read the publications. And then plan the event, promote it and lead the walking tour. “The outcome should be a project we make ourselves; this is an interesting task that not only teaches us about Jewish culture, but has us learn to organize and to take responsibility for our work – something we’ll need in adult life” said Patrycja, one of the Żory School of Dialogue participants. Students fulfilled all their obligations with flying colors and even went beyond the conventions of a traditional tour: they prepared a theater performance, recorded 4 films, were interviewed in a local radio show, created pins for their projects and attended workshops in a local museum.

Anna Geller, Magda Sobczuk

The event they prepared proved to be a serious affair indeed, with many dimensions and attracting a large audience, as students informed during the Radio Żory show.

On the day of the walking tour, its young participants headed for the building of the cinema, which used to be a synagogue. Their guides had secured the screening room for the purposes of the tour for the whole day: this was the first and also final stop on the route of their walking tour/location-based urban game. Contestants headed to the Hotel Under the Four Linden Trees (Hotel pod Czterema Lipami), which used to belong to the Zweig family, and to the Jewish cemetery, which at that time of the year looked picturesque being covered in autumn leaves.

By solving a number of tasks, contestants reached the house that belonged to the parents of the physicist Otto Stern, who was honored with a Nobel Prize in physics in 1943. Tour participants also visited a former Jewish inn which now houses the Municipal Culture Center, the “Old Mill” (Stary Młyn) hotel that once was home to Panowski family and the Jewish school at Szeroka Street.

Reflecting on their experience with the School of Dialogue program, Żory students said: “We learned to organize our time, turn the impossible into feasible and to do things that would seem beyond the capacities of high school students. We also learned that we can always count on those who want us to succeed.” Their words illustrate the success of School of Dialogue in Żory.

Jews helped my town develop. Who knows, maybe if it wasn’t for them my life and town today would look completely different? Jews are a part of my town’s history that we cannot forget about; on the contrary, we should make others realize this as well.

Workshops participant

These workshops showed me that learning about other cultures and religions is important to understand history and the world around us. I hope that these workshops helped many people realize that sometimes we should stop where we are, look beyond ourselves and starts thinking about others.

Workshops participant

I was extremely surprised to learn that the site of the movie theater used to be the location of our town’s synagogue.

Workshops participant


Karol Miarka High School no.1 with bilingual classes
Honorable Mention:
3rd Award at 2015 School of Dialogue Gala
1st year students
Agnieszka Kraińska
Anna Geller, Magda Sobczuk

To read more about Żory 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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