Polish Friends of the Forum, Warsaw, Poland – June 6, 2019 (PM)

by George J Elbaum

Polish Friends of the Forum is an informal group of individuals who understand the importance of Polish/Jewish dialogue and who identify with the mission of Forum for Dialogue and support its programs, enhancing their own understanding and knowledge.  Of the 19 attendees at the June 6 event, 7 had just returned from a trip to Israel as part of the Polish/Israeli Leadership Initiative. This program is a platform for cooperation and exchange of ideas for a community of public opinion leaders from Poland and Israel, meeting each year alternatively in Poland and Israel. During each reunion this international group participates in an intense program addressing common issues and concerns related to democracy and civil society.

I was asked by the Forum’s President, Andrzej Folwarczny, to give my presentation to this group at the June 6 meeting, and I did so with only a small difference in that the audience was not teenagers but adults.  Their questions, consequently, were also somewhat different, broader, more empathetic, and more focused on the world’s current political and social situation, and these continued afterwards in the hallway over glasses of wine.

The meeting (and the wine) were hosted by Beata Machała, CFO of Gutek Film at Warsaw’s cinema “Muranow”, one of the cinemas with the most interesting and consistent art house repertoire, which also hosts numerous festivals and retrospectives.

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Queen Jadwiga 2nd High School, Siedlce, Poland – June 6, 2019 (AM)

by George J Elbaum

Siedlce is a city 57 miles east of Warsaw with a current population of 76,600.  In 1939, the eve of WWII, its population was 40,500, of which 15,000 were Jews.  In 1940 the Nazis deported over a thousand Jews from elsewhere in Poland to Siedlce, and in March 1941 (still before the formal decision to implement the “Final Solution”), Nazi Orpo (military police) battalions rampaged for three days in Siedlce, killing Jews. Five months later Jews were forced into the new Siedlce ghetto, which consisted of several small city blocks in the city center, and in early October 1941 the ghetto was closed, cut off from the outside world.  Conditions were appalling: epidemics of typhus and scarlet fever raged. Then in August 1942 some 10,000 Siedlce Jews were deported to Treblinka and murdered there together with a similar number of Jews from three nearby transit ghettos.  Hundreds of Jews were shot on the spot during house-to-house searches, along with staff and patients of the Jewish hospital.  1,500 Jews were temporarily spared death in order to continue supplying slave labor, and then deported to Treblinka for extermination a few months later.  Siedlce has a sad history indeed!

In contrast to this sad history, Siedlce is now a cultural hub for the entire province, with festivals, exhibitions, concerts of country-wide significance, museums, public libraries, the Culture and Art Center (CKiS) and the Municipal Cultural Centre (MOK).  The city also has an art gallery located at the University with a painting by El Greco “The Ecstasy of St. Francis”, the only El Greco painting in Poland. 

The Queen Jadwiga 2nd High School in Siedlce, so-called “Królówka”  has an enrollment of 300 students, and it participated in the School of Dialogue Program in spring semester 2019.  The school participates in the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme which facilitates entry for its graduates to the finest universities worldwide.  The Queen Jadwiga High School was established in 1904 as a single-sex trade school for girls. It cooperates with universities in Sieldce and Warsaw and participates in various international exchanges and projects about history and social life.  

The school’s Vice Principal (and School of Dialogue coordinator) is Małgorzata Kotarska, who could not be present but had made all arrangements for the presentation, which was attended by 90 students.   School personnel in attendance were Principal Agnieszka Borkowska, Vice Principal Tadeusz Koczoń, and teachers Dorota Gawryluk (Life Sciences) and Katarzyna Głuchowska (English language).

The Forum for Dialogue’s Olga Kaczmarek and Agnieszka Mierzwa accompanied me to Siedlce and provided translation as needed.

starting the talk

the audience

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Henryk Sienkiewicz 1st School Complex, Plonsk, Poland – June 5, 2019 (PM)

by George J Elbaum

Płońsk, a town 40 mi. northwest of Warsaw, was initially established in the 11th century, gained city rights in early 15th century, and now its population is 22,500.  In the early 20th century, its population of 10,000 was equally divided between Poles and Jews.  Many of the Jewish residents of Plonsk immigrated to Palestine, spurred on by the idea of building a Jewish homeland.   In September 1940, one year after the Nazi invasion, Jews from the town and the surrounding areas were imprisoned in a ghetto in harsh conditions, including a typhus epidemic.  In total, 12,000 Jews were prisoners in the Plonsk ghetto, and in October 1942 they were sent to Auschwitz extermination camp, never to return.

Płonsk’s Henryk Sienkiewicz High School has an enrollment of 600 students aged 16-19, and it has participated in the School of Dialogue Program in 2019.  Coordinating this program in the school was history teacher Ireneusz Cała, who also organized my talk which was attended by 50 students, and reading from my book in Polish were students Natalia, Kinga, Andzelika and Michal.   Also in attendance were school principal Karina Kmiecinska, representatives of the Municipal Library in Płońsk, plus the Forum for Dialogue’s Marta Usiekniewicz and Hanna Gospodarczyk, who accompanied me to Plonsk and provided translation as needed.

starting the talk

the audience

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Tadeusz Kosciuszko 3rd Public Elementary School, Pultusk, Poland – June 5, 2019 (AM)

by George J Elbaum

Pułtusk, a town 43 miles north of Warsaw with a current population of about 19,000, has existed since at least the 10th century.  It’s one of the oldest cities in Poland, and due to its Italian-influenced architecture, canals and floating gondolas it became known as “Little Polish Venice”.  The favorable placement of the town on the Narew River, where grain and other goods were transported to the port of Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea, contributed to the town’s growth and importance.  On the other hand, during the millennium of its existence Pułtusk was possibly the most invaded town in Poland.  Despite the extent of the destruction, especially during World War II, the town has been reconstructed and is now one of the most recognized and admired tourist destinations in the region because of its historical and unique architecture.  Before the start of World War II Pultusk’s Jewish population was about half of the town’s total 15,000.  However, on September 7, 1939 the town came under the control of the Nazis who, within the month, deported the town’s Jews to concentration camps from which none ever returned.

The Tadeusz Kosciuszko 3rd Public Elementary School in Pultusk has an enrollment of ca. 700 students in grades 1 to 8.  The school was established immediately after World War II in a former court building, and it has been quite active in educating its students about tolerance and history, including its current participation in the School of Dialogue program.  The School of Dialogue program at Pultusk is coordinated by English teacher Sylwia Narwojsz, who also organized my talk which was attended by 50 students in grades 7 and 8.  Also in attendance were Małgorzata Załoga, supporting teacher in primary education, librarian Malgorzata Grzesiak, and Aneta Szymańska, a Leader of Dialogue from Pułtusk whose efforts are focused on discovering and restoring Jewish heritage in the region – she  invited us to lunch on our next visit to Pultusk, and considering her tremendous enthusiasm, how could I but accept 😊!  The Forum for Dialogue’s Marta Usiekniewicz and Hanna Gospodarczyk accompanied me to Pultusk and provided translation as needed.

 

the school’s welcome, with Aneta Szymanska – Thank You!

the audience

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Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Romualda Traugutta – June 4, 2019 (PM)

by George J Elbaum

XLV Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Romualda Traugutta is a public high school with an enrollment of 150 students in 3 grades (Polish high schools start the grade count at 1, so ages 15/16 for 1st and 18/19 for 3rd grade).  The school is located on Warsaw’s Mila Street, in an area that the Nazis walled in as the Warsaw ghetto (and where all buildings were leveled on Hitler’s orders after the ghetto uprising of April 1943 was defeated), so teacher Elzbieta Kunowska, who organized my talk at the school, feels both obliged and privileged to teach about the Holocaust, to commemorate its victims, and to remember what happened on this very ground during WWII.  The school therefore takes part in many projects devoted to the Holocaust as part of programs organized by the Forum for Dialogue and the Polin Museum of History of Polish Jews.  The school truly stresses the importance of the Holocaust in its education, and its motto is: ‘’School is not a building; students, teachers and their relationship create school”

My talk was attended by 90 students from the current 1st and 2nd grades of the school, as the 3rd grade students have already graduated the previous week.  In addition to Elzbieta Kunowska, the religion teacher who organized my talk, also attending were history teacher Michal Osypowicz, and English teachers Adrianna Kunka and Beata Swiatkowska, plus Violetta Tarnowska, who organized my very first talk in Warsaw at her school in 2014 and my subsequent talks in Warsaw since then.

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The British School, Warsaw, Poland – June 4, 2019 (AM)

by George J Elbaum

The British School Warsaw was founded in 1992 and has become the leading international school in Warsaw, delivering high quality innovative education in a rapidly changing environment.  Its current enrollment in Year 1-13 is 1152 students, of which 42% are Polish.  Based on a foundation of British culture and the pursuit of excellence, the school takes pride in its history and heritage.  This is evidenced in its curriculum and uniforms, its discipline, culture and values. Like the best British schools globally, it challenges its students to live by its values – “Respect, Honesty, Diversity and Community.”

The school’s modern facilities include classrooms, science laboratories, indoor and outdoor play facilities, sports halls, art rooms, music technology suite and practice rooms, and mobile computer facilities linked to a fully functional wi-fi system across the school.

The high academic standards of the school are demonstrated by the fact that since 2001 The British School Warsaw has delivered the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, facilitating entry for its graduates to the finest universities worldwide.  The school’s IB Programme is centered in the IB Learning Centre for senior students.  Another example of its academic achievement is its collaboration with top international universities in specific areas such as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics).  Specifically, MIT provides The British School with STEAM challenges developed by MIT professors, and which it uses to guide its STEAM curriculum and engage as many students and grade levels with these challenges as possible.

My talk to Year 9 students was organized by Richard Bridges, the school’s Head of History, and was also attended by Paul Mitchell, Head of Year 11 and Math, and Rob Prokic, Head of Year 9 and Math.  It was arranged by Violetta Tarnowska, who arranged my first talk in Warsaw at her school in 2014 and many subsequent talks.

starting the talk

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XXX Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Jana Sniadeckiego, Warsaw, Poland – June 3, 2019 (PM)

by George J Elbaum

XXX Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Jana Sniadeckiego is a public high school with attendance of 400 in 3 grades (Polish high schools start the grade count at 1, so ages 15/16 for 1st grade and 18/19 for 3rd grade).  The school has an impressive website showing current activities and academic competitions in which its students participate, including competition in English fluency.  Approximately 100 students volunteered to attend my talk as they felt that their English was good enough and would not need any translation.  (Indeed, they seemed quite comfortable not just understanding but also speaking English, per my subsequent chats with several of them.)

The school’s students also volunteer and take part in Forum for Dialogue programs dealing with Jewish history in pre-WWII Poland, and a wonderful example of this is an email I received from one of the students a few days after speaking there:

“Good evening, Sir!                                                                                                                                I am a student of XXX High School named after Jan Śniadecki in Warsaw.  As You asked, I send You link for Facebook website of our school project.  „Wiem Na Czym Stoję” (“I know what I stand for”) is about Jewish history in Warsaw, we find places that are connected to Jewish people and post photos on our site. https://www.facebook.com/pg/wiemnaczymstoje1/posts/                                                   Once again I want to thank You for Your visit to our school. It is so important and so brave for You to tell Your story.  It was a big honour to meet You.  Thank You for everything.    Martyna Banat”

My talk at the school was organized by teacher Anna Jeleszuk (History and Social Studies) and I was introduced by the school’s Director, Marcin Konrad Jaroszewski.  It was organized by Violetta Tarnowska, who had organized my very first talk in Warsaw at her school in 2014 and my talks in Warsaw since then.

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