Mazel tov to Tomasz Wiśniewski, awarded the 2018 POLIN Poland award, presented by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw! It was the fourth edition of the award.
“We grant the Award to people, organizations and institutions that, in the past few years, contributed to both the revival of the memory of the history of Polish Jews, and to building mutual understanding and respect between Poles and Jews. We are aware that there are many such initiatives, both in big cities and in small towns. People who devote their time and energy to these initiatives deserve a distinction, and our gratitude,” says POLIN Director Dariusz Stola.
The award (consisting of a sculpture and a monetary prize) was presented at a gala ceremony at the museum on December 4.
As the museum announcement notes, Tomek, based in Białystok, has been working for more than 30 years to preserve the memory of the Jewish communities of Poland’s eastern borderland.
He has written several books, including a guidebook to Jewish Bialystok and surroundings, and on his YouTube channel you can find more than 2,000 films presenting Jewish history of the region. He has documented Jewish cemeteries and runs the site bagnowka.pl , which collects data on almost 40,000 tombstones, mainly Jewish ones, and also present other heritage information.
He has won many awards at international film festivals, including Robinson Short Film Competition and awards for the best documentary at the 15th Warsaw Jewish Film Festival.
Wiśniewski grew up knowing nothing about the rich Jewish history of Białystok; he learned of it by chance in a book he read in the early 1980s. After that, he began investigating, digging up pre-war guides and newspapers. Starting in the 1980s, he eventually published in a local newspaper what he described to JHE director Ruth Ellen Gruber as “brief and innocuous” articles about the city’s Jewish history. He called these articles “Postcards from Atlantis.”
“At the beginning they were rather clumsy,” he told Gruber.
“Without knowing much I tried to tell the story of what before the war was practically a Jewish city. But then, elderly people and even a few Jews began to seek me out at the news office. I talked with them for hours, I taped these conversations, I roamed through the city; they showed me the buildings of old pre-war Jewish schools. At the same time, I read, read, read, all that I could get my hands on about this subject. And so it began. I made contacts with Jews from Białystok in Israel, the USA, everywhere. They sent me their books, photocopies of documents, photographs.”
Several other awards were presented at the gala:
Two POLIN Jury Awards were presented to:
Magdalena Lewkowicz, who runs local activities in and around Mrągowo commemorating the Jews of Warmia and Mazury.
Dariusz Popiela, an activist of the Sądecki Sztetl project (and wellknown athlete) who is a co-organizer of meetings introducing Jewish culture in Nowy Sącz, initiator and coordinator of the construction of the Memorial to the Memory of Jews from Krościenko on the Dunajec River, and commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust at the cemetery in Krościenko.
Stola presented Special Awards to:
Bogdan Białek, co-chairman of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews and a member of the Internet board of the Yeshiva Pardes-Academy of Judaism. He conducts rich social, educational and cultural activities, is the originator of the March of Remembrance and Prayer held in Kielce commemorating pogroms committed on Jews and numerous meetings and debates.
Adam Bartosz, an eminent expert on the culture and history of Roma and Jews, who is one of the initiators of the Committee for the Care of Jewish Cultural Monuments and the originator of the Galicia Jewish Remembrance Days in Tarnów and surrounding towns. For many years he was director of the Regional Museum in Tarnów.
2015 — Tomasz Pietrasiewicz, founder and director of the “Brama Grodzka—Teatr NN” foundation in Lublin was POLIN Award’s first ever laureate. His foundation has been involved in a number of educational and artistic projects dedicated to the heritage of Lublin Jewry since 1998.
2016 — Jacek Koszczan, founder and chairman of ‘Sztetl Dukla – Association for the Preservation of the Heritage of Jews from the Dukla Region.’ The Award jury decided to honour two more people. Honourable Mentions were presented to Robert Augustyniak, a prime-mover behind actions aimed at restoring the memory of the Jewish community from Grodzisk Mazowiecki, and Mirosław Skrzypczyk, teacher and animator of culture who is active in the field of preservation of the Jewish heritage in Lelów and Szczekociny. The Special Prize went to Jan Jagielski of the Jewish Historical Institute, to honour him for his lifetime achievement.
2017 — Joanna Podolska, Director of the Marek Edelman Dialogue Center in Łódź who is deeply engaged in preservation of the memory of the Jewish community of Łódź, was laureate of the POLIN Award3rd edition. Dariusz Paczkowski from Żywiec and Ireneusz Socha from Dębica were granted Honorable Mentions. The 2017 POLIN Special Award went to the Children of the Holocaust Association in Poland.