A ceremony June 24 (Sunday) honored more than a dozen non-Jewish Poles (or organizations) for their work in preserving, promoting, and caring for Jewish culture and heritage in Poland and promoting Jewish-Polish dialogue.
It marked the 21st edition of the annual awards, which were established in 1998 by the American lawyer Michael Traison, who spends part of the year in Poland. Over the years more than 250 people, mostly volunteers and mostly from small, far-flung towns, have been honored for activities ranging from cleaning up Jewish cemeteries to running Jewish museums to carrying out school projects on Jewish history and memory.
“My purpose in establishing the Ceremonies remains today: to say thank you from the Jewish world; to tell all the world including, especially, the Jewish world, the kind of work that is being done by Polish non-Jews and to encourage such work in the future,” Traison says.
The ceremony is organized by the Michael H.Traison Fund for Poland, the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, the Jewish Community Center JCC Krakow, Univers ity of Haifa, Sigmund Rolat, Emile Karafiol, and Joshua Erlichster.
The Preserving Memory awards to Poles this year go to:
Aneta Szymanska promotes the history and remembrance of the Jewish inhabitants of the town of Pułtusk. She also assists their descendants who visit Pułtusk. As the founder of the Pułtusk Dialogue Association “Most” (Bridge), which promotes the multifaith and multicultural history of the city, she initiates a number of cultural and educational events related to local Jewish history. These events involve the local community in marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, among other commemorative dates. Ms. Szymanska is engaged in various educational projects enabling local students to acquire experience related to intercultural dialogue.
Eugeniusz Bakalus is the caretaker of the Jewish cemetery in Rybotycze. Thanks to his efforts, the cemetery area, once full of litter and used as a pasture, is now restored and protected. In cooperation with the last living Jewish citizen of Rybotycze – Moses Rubinfeld – Mr. Bakalus installed a memorial to the murdered Jewish inhabitants of the town, who constituted 25% of Rybotycze’s population before World War 11. Mr. Bakalus also promotes the importance of the Jewish history of Rybotycze, by participating in many international meetings with young people from Poland, Germany, and Israel.
lreneusz Socha is the leader of Polish-Jewish dialogue in Dębica. Initially, he knew nothing about Jewish culture and Judaism. Things changed, however, when he started living next to the ruined Jewish cemetery. The sight of the unprotected, unfenced area being used as a recreation space prompted him to act. Thanks to his cooperation with the last living Jewish citizen of Dębica – Israel Goldberg – and the Nissenbaum Family Foundation, the cemetery was cleared of debris and protected by a fence. Mr. Socha was also involved in the translation of the Memorial Book of Dębica Jews, which was published in 2014. He is working with the Dębica Jewish Association in Israel on a project to restore the local synagogue, long used as a store. In cooperation with students from High School no.1, the Regional Museum of Dębica, and the Society of Friends of Dębica Region, he organizes numerous events commemorating the Jewish past of Dębica.
Zdzislaw Senczak is the president of the Leon Karcinski Christian Community Association in Nowy Zmigrod. He works to preserve the memory of the Jewish citizens of the town. He has initiated the Ecumenical Prayer Meetings at the mass grave in Halbow village, where Jews from Nowy Zmigrod were murdered in 1942. Thanks to the activities of his Association, the area was cleaned, fenced, and appropriate interpretative materials were installed at the site. And also thanks to him, a plaque commemorating the mass execution was also unveiled in the Zmigrod main square. He and his association are also involved in the restoration of the local Jewish cemetery.
Marcin Zarod is an English teacher at Janusz Korczak High School in Tarnow. He involves his students in several projects connected to the history of Tarnow Jews. His first project consisted of superimposing old documentary photos of Jews in pre-war Tarnow onto contemporary pictures taken at the same locations. The project evolved into a collaboration between Polish students and students of Harel High School in Mevaseret Zion in Israel. Mr. Zarod’s second project was devoted to Julius Madritsch, who saved numerous Jews from Tarnow during the Holocaust. An exhibition, created as part of the project, travelled throughout Poland and received a number of awards. Mr. Zarod is engaged in a social media campaign to increase awareness about Tarnow’s Jewish history. He is also involved in preserving the memory of Polish Righteous Among the Nations.
Krystyna Estkowska is the principal of the Integration School no. 2 in Pułtusk. Her activities focus on providing her students with the principles of respect for other cultures and religions. The commemoration of Jewish residents of the town is of particular importance to her. Together with her students, she organizes ceremonies at monuments dedicated to the Pułtusk Jews on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She works closely with the Association of Pułtusk Jews in Israel. She also organizes meetings between Polish and Israeli youth. Her actions have been appreciated by the local community, and frequent coverage in the local media keeps the memory of local Jewish past and heritage alive.
Magdalena Bialek, teacher at High School no. 3 in Jasło, has been involved in preserving the memory of the Jews of Jasło and commemorating local victims of the Holocaust for many years. She organizes ceremonies, and artistic and educational programs, for the town’s residents, familiarizing them with the Jewish past of Jasło. She has also initiated a series of cleaning sessions of the local Jewish cemetery . In addition to involving her students in this project, she has included prisoners from a local Jasło prison, who clean the cemetery as part of their resocialization program. In 2017, she worked with the Regional Museum of Jasło to create an exhibition devoted to the town’s former Jewish community. Not only did this exhibition restore memory locally, but the exhibition also resulted in the renewal of contacts with descendants of the once-large local Jewish community, who now primarily live in the USA and Canada. She has participated in numerous scientific conferences in Poland and abroad, promoting issues related to the history of Polish Jews.
Marek Mielczarek and Pawel Janicki
Marek Mielczarek is the headmaster of the School and Pre-School Complex in Dobra, and Paweł Janicki is a teacher and catechist at the same school. Thanks to their efforts, in 2017 a monument bearing a list of the names of the Jews buried in the cemetery in Dobra was erected and unveiled. In 2016, they organized, for the first time, the Day of Judaism for their students. Their activities led to school being awarded the special title “School of Dialogue” several times, for expanding students’ knowledge about the centuries-old Jewish presence in Poland. Mr. Mielczarek and Mr. Janicki are also engaged in commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. Their students participate in the March of Remembrance in the former death camp in Chełmno nad Nerem (Kulmhof). and in ceremonies commemorating the liquidation of the Łódż Ghetto. They additionally organize student meetings with guests from Israel and Germany during which the history of Jews from Dobra is invoked. In 2014, Mr. Janicki published his book From Dobra to Chełmno. The History oF Dobra’s Jews.
Dariusz Rozmus, PhD, is an archaeologist and lecturer at Humanitas High School in Sosnowiec, who is also affiliated with Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Additionally, he works in the Archaeology Department of the Municipal Museum Sztygarka in Dąbrowa Gornicza. He has made numerous archaeological discoveries and has written a number of books and articles on the archaeology and history of Zagłębie and Silesia regions. Jewish sepulchral art is also an important aspect of his research. Dr. Rozmus is a leading expert on the subject of Jewish cemeteries in Poland, and is the author of numerous important publications pertaining to the subject, including: ”Jewish cemeteries in Olkusz region” (1999), “De Judeorum artesep ulcrali” (2005), “Old Jewish cemetery in Olkusz'” (2007), and ”.Jewish cemetery in Jaworzno” (2012). His work at Jewish cemeteries in Zagłębie, Silesia, and Lesser Poland regions has made significant contributions to the preservation of the local heritage and increased awareness about its historical and cultural importance to local communities.
Agnieszka Mrowiec-Smaga is an English language teacher and intercultural education leader at Juliusz Slowacki High School no. l in Częstochowa. She has led numerous educational projects aiming to recall and preserve the history of the Jewish community in Częstochowa, its contribution to the development of the city, and its wartime history. She closely cooperates with the POLIN Museum in Warsaw, the Association of Częstochowa Jews in Israel. and the Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Częstochowa. She organizes meetings between Polish and Israeli students at her school and at the local Jewish cemetery. She supervised the project “The Youth Records History”, commemorating people from Częstochowa and surrounding areas who were honored with the Righteous Among the Nations medal. In her work, she emphasizes respecting cultural differences, celebrating and recognizing the diversity in all areas of human life. She encourages her students to realize that different ways of life, customs and worldviews should be respected as equal.
Małgorzata Kaim is the principal of Juliusz Slowacki High School no. l in Częstochowa, and a teacher of history and civic education. For 18 years she has been promoting interest in the history and culture of the Jews among her students. She is the initiator of many projects and activities which teach general Jewish history, culture, traditions, and contributions to the development of culture and science in Poland; Jewish history of Częstochowa; the tragedy of the Holocaust; and the post-war fate of local survivors. Her students participate in competitions relating to the Jewish past, in which they have placed in the top positions. She is also involved in educational projects, workshops, performances, and meetings with young people from Israel. She also participated in a seminar at the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. She cooperates with the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Częstochowa.
Spoleczny Komitet Opieki nad Cmentarzem Zydowskim w Zabrzu (The Social Committee for the Care of the Jewish Cemetery in Zabrze)
The Social Committee for the Care of the Jewish Cemetery in Zabrze was founded in 1989 on the initiative of Dariusz Walerjanski (who received an award at the first edition of “Preserving Memory” in 1998). Thanks to the efforts of the Committee, the cemetery (founded in 1871) was included in the national register of historical monuments. Since 2010, the Committee has organized public fundraising events, collecting funds for maintenance and care of the cemetery. Members of the Committee also engage young people from local schools and recruit volunteers to look after the cemetery. The cemetery is open to the public, and the Committee organizes free walking tours of the site. Every year on November 1st, the gates are opened for All Saints Day, which despite being a strictly Christian holiday, provides an opportunity for visitors to pay homage to the deceased Jewish inhabitants of the city.