One of the most frequently asked questions, regarding the situation in Poland, is about the local Polish attitude towards Jews and the Holocaust. While it is true that that there is vandalism of memorials, and Radio Maria spouts anti-Semitic remarks, there are also many signs of friendship, understanding and closeness between the two cultures.
Every year, as part of the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival, there is a ceremony honoring Non-Jewish Poles who have worked to preserve the memory of Jewish life in Poland. This year’s ceremony took place at the Museum of Galicia in the Kazmirez neighborhood of Krakow.
When thinking of those who work to preserve the memory of Jewish life in Poland, one usually envisions middle-aged people, who have some connection to the past. At this year’s ceremony, I saw a group of youngsters with spiked hair, wearing typical street clothes of their generation. My first thought was, “This is how the kids got dressed to honor their parents? What a shame.”
To my pleasant surprise it wasn’t the parents that were being honored but the kids themselves. They had taken it upon themselves, under the leadership of Mr. Szymon Modrzejewski, to help preserve their local Jewish cemetery. Kol HaKavod to these kids.
All told 11 people were added to the list of Poles honored for their selfless work in remembering and preserving Jewish heritage in Poland. In recognition of their efforts, in the presence of hundreds of Jewish dignitaries from Poland and around the world, the kids were all given certificates of honor from Israel Ambassador, David Peleg, and the City Council of Pittsburgh, Penn.
Mr. Karol Jerzy Babiarz, Izbica
As the representative of Izbica County he has always remembered a large Jewish community that lived in Izbica. Mr. Babiarz has been helpful and open to initiatives focused on the history of the community. He actively helped to get back and preserve hundreds of pieces of Jewish gravestones that Germans used to construct agricultural buildings.
Mr. Krzysztof Bielawski, Warszawa
Mr. Krzysztof Bielawski created a well known website “Kirkuty.” His energy and engagement helped him gather many people to work on documentation of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The descriptions of the cemeteries written by him show broad knowledge, and his website has become an encyclopedia of Jewish cities and towns of Poland.
Mr. Marcin Dudek, Szczepanowo
Mr. Marcin Dudek, a student of geodesics, conducts research on Jewish history in the towns of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie County. He has initiated preservation of the Jewish cemetery in Barcin. Together with his colleagues, from the local secondary school, he managed to plant a valley of trees exactly at the borders of the Jewish cemetery.
Mr. Karol Gfebocki, Wysokie Mazowieckie
This teacher fell in love with his town and decided to remind the citizens of Wysokie Mazowieckie about the Jewish heritage of their town. His project, “Under the Common Sky – Multicultural Past of Wysokie Mazowieckie,” has helped clean and preserve the Jewish cemetery.
Mr. Adam Marczewski, Kedzierzyn-Kozle
Initiator of the Internet project Israel-Badacz (Israel-Researcher) which contains many valuable articles about Israel and a large set of articles about Jewish heritage in Poland.
Mr. Szymon Modrzejewski and friends at the ceremony honoring them for their work in preserving remembrance of Jewish life in Poland.
Mr. Szymon Modrzejewski, Uide Gorlickie
With a group of his friends, he managed to excavate Jewish gravestones from Belcz. They were originally stolen from the Jewish cemetery in Jailiska. Mr. Modrzejewski has cleaned and preserved the gravestones, and now they are stored, waiting to be returned to the cemetery in Jagliska.
Mr. Andrzej Moskwa, Ilza
In the beautiful town of Ilza, often visited by the poet Bolesfaw Lesmain, the mayor and citizens look after the Jewish cemetery. This cemetery is now an empty space but the local community has built a fence that helps preserve ashes of those who passed away.
Mr. ZbIgniew Nizinski, Warszawa
He travels across the country by car, bike, or foot, to get as many photos of Jewish cemeteries as possible. He interviews local people to get new information about the mass graves that have not yet been found and described.
Mr. Jaroslaw Jacek Samela, Wachock
As the mayor of the town of Wachock, he has been very active in preserving the local Jewish cemetery. Due to his initiative, the cemetery has been surrounded with a fence, and now it reminds local people that Poles and Jews used to live together in Wachock.
Mr. Marek Staniek, Iwaniska
The mayor and the citizens of the town of Iwaniska have decided to install a fence around the Jewish cemetery. In the open field they built a gate with a Magen David, and many pieces of the gravestones have been placed on the inner wall of the cemetery.
Mr. Jacek Szwlc, Przemytl
Expert on the Jewish history of Przemysl and surrounding areas, he is one of the major initiators in establishing the monument at the mass grave of Jews from Przemysl, murdered in July 1942, in the forests of Grochowka.
Shmuel Ben Eliezer