by George J Elbaum
Gimnazjum No. 3, named for Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, is located in Mokotow on the southern edge of central Warsaw, only a few blocks from the primary school that I attended before leaving for the U.S. in 1949, so going there for my presentation felt a bit like homecoming. The event was organized by Violetta Tarnowska, the energetic and idealistic teacher of Polish and English. Some years ago she noticed that students were becoming less and less aware and interested in Warsaw’s history before and during WWII and she wanted to ensure that they learn and remember it, including that of its pre-war Jewish community (which was 1/3 of Warsaw’s total population) and of the Holocaust. She therefore welcomed and organized my first talk in her school in May 2014 and invited students from other gimnazjums plus representatives of Warsaw school authorities, resulting in an audience of almost 200. Because my talk would be in English, I was concerned about the need for translation, but Ms. Tarnowska assured me that most of the students were sufficiently competent in English so only unique words or terms would need translation and she would provide for it. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised by the students’ competence in English, and in my brief one-to-one conversations with each student during the book signing I was especially surprised at most students’ comfort in speaking with me.
After her successful organization of my May 2014 presentation Ms. Tarnowska continued her interest in providing a broad and balanced education for her students, so in July 2016 she accepted a month-long internship in Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity to broaden her knowledge. On her return to Warsaw she launched a project with her students consisting of 1,500 hand-painted stones to commemorate the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust, and she personally placed it in the Treblinka Museum in Treblinka. Then, when I informed her of my interest to return to Warsaw in May 2017 to once again give talks in Warsaw schools, she volunteered to arrange these talks. The results are the 4 talks that I just concluded in Warsaw: in Gimnazjum No. 3, followed by Gimnazjum No. 1, Gimnazjum No. 32, and Gimnazjum No. 11. I very much appreciate her excellent efforts, the resulting contacts with so many Warsaw students, and their warm and enthusiastic feedback.
Ms. Tarnowska introduced my presentation in her school, which was also attended by the Gimnazjum’s Headmaster Katarzyna Hampel, English teacher Magdalena Cieslik, Jerzy Iwanski, plus Dr. Sylwia Spurek, Poland’s Deputy Ombudsman, who made an important statement to the audience as part of the introduction.