by George J Elbaum
Blonie is a town 15 miles west of Warsaw with a current population of approximately 13,000. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Blonie’s population was 8700, of which 3000+ were Jewish. For them, the Holocaust started 2 weeks after the invasion when the Nazis executed 50 civilians, mostly Jews. It continued when the Nazis established the town’s Jewish ghetto in 1940, then the next year when the town’s remaining 2100 Jews were shipped to the Warsaw Ghetto, and from there to the Treblinka extermination camp and their death. No Jews live in Blonie now.
My introduction to Blonie was on May 26, 2017: at the dinner for Leaders of Dialogue organized by Forum for Dialogue, I met Dorota Berlińska, a social studies teacher and school principal at Blonie’s M.M. Kolbe Junior High, who has led her students in restoring some of the remains of Jewish heritage in their town, and where I’d be speaking in 5 days. Indeed, on the morning of May 31, 2017, my wife Mimi and I traveled to Blonie accompanied by Zuzanna Radzik, the Forum’s Executive Board Member, who would also translate my talk into Polish as not all of Blonie students were fully fluent in English.
On arrival at the school we were met by the principal, Dorota Berlinska, and a welcome committee of students Janek, Julka, Wiktoria, Maja and Kasia, who conducted a short interview. Led by Maja and Kasia, these students had previously done a school project about Irena Sendler, who had heroically smuggled and thus saved approximately 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.
The school had already received my books in Polish which had just been translated and published by the Forum, and those parts of the book that I normally read during a talk were now read from the Polish edition by students Julia, Amelia, Emilia, Michał.
During the Q&A that followed the first question was asked in fluent English by Krzysztof, who took the initiative to have already read my book and thus asked several very pertinent questions. More questions continued, with Lukasz and others asking many excellent ones, and this was followed by a lively book signing during which I had short but enjoyable chats with many of the students, all in English. Receiving the school’s presents, I was surprised that the colorful, handmade ceramic mugs were filled to the brim with marzipan, my favorite confectionary, and then I realized that I describe that in my book which some of them had already read. It was all a very, very enjoyable experience, organized by the school’s principal Dorota Berlinska and teachers Dorota Ambroziak, Joanna Szymanska, and Mariola Kopanska-Wyrzykowska.