Opportunity for teens to break with anti-Semitic stereotypes
Photo: AFP

Polish students delve into Jewish past

Lost culture re-emerging in Poland as youngsters scour their communities, searching for traces of Jewish life as it once existed

Annihilated by Nazi Germany and largely forgotten by Poles, lost Jewish culture is re-emerging in Poland as youngsters scour their communities, searching for traces of Jewish life as it once existed.


In Konskie, a small town of 20,000 people located 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Warsaw, a parking lot and a supermarket now stand on the site of a synagogue razed by the Nazis.


Eight other Jewish prayer houses were also destroyed and the Jewish cemetery is now a vacant lot.


Before the war, half of Konskie was Jewish. Today, a humble plaque fixed to house commemorating 22 Jews shot there by the Germans in September 1939 is the only visible trace of the once deeply rooted community which could trace its roots back to at least the 16th century.


"We didn't know anything about Konskie's Jewish history. We didn't know that Jews were key in creating this town," said Agnieszka Maszczyk, a 15-year-old high school student. "Personally, I've never met a Jew," she added.

'We didn't know that Jews were key in creating this town' (Photo: AFP)


Along with 20 of her classmates, Agnieszka decided to delve into the town's forgotten Jewish past in a project spearheaded by the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, an association aimed at fostering Polish-Jewish discourse.


"We'd like them to become interested in Jewish history. It's a difficult subject to broach, it's very interesting but it isn't part of the community's memory," said Anna Desponds, a Forum activist.


The Forum has already conducted similar projects in more than 60 high schools across Poland, including more than two dozen in communities that were "shtetls", or small Jewish towns and villages before the Holocaust.


Living in Poland since at least the 10th century, Jews comprised 10% of Poland's population prior to World War II -- making up Europe's largest Jewish community.


Half of the Polish citizens who perished under the Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945 were Jews.


Today, the Jewish community in Poland is estimated to be 40,000 to 50,000 of the country's 38 million residents.


Opening door to another world

During a four-day training course created by the Forum, enthusiastic Konskie high school students organized a tour through the town following the trail of its vanished Jewish community.


The route led through the former ghetto, from which 9,000 Jews were deported by the Nazis to the Treblinka death camp. It also highlighted a building that once housed a shoe store owned by a Jewish merchant, and ended at the site on which the synagogue once stood.


Once back at school, the students constructed a 'day-in-the-life' of David, an imaginary Jewish boy, who once lived in Konskie.


For these teenagers, the project is also an opportunity to break with the anti-Semitic stereotypes still alive in parts of Polish society.


"We lived in a world of stereotypes. Today, we opened a door to another world. We discovered books that had been hidden from us," said student Karolina Kubis, 16.


"The next generation is a great hope," said Krzysztof Wozniak, an amateur historian, sitting in his living room filled with documents and photos detailing the history of Konskie.


During the post-war communist-era which ended in 1989, no one was interested in Jewish history, he said.


"It was an embarrassing subject for some. For me, it's a void that must be filled," said Wozniak, who eagerly participated in the high school the project.


The town's young historians are planning another trek into Konskie's Jewish past later this year.


This time, the event will be open to the public with the hope of fostering greater awareness of the town's lost Jewish community.


"Those who ignore history, have no identity," Kubis said.



פרסום ראשון: 01.14.12, 08:44
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