Friday, April 17, 2015

Day 10 - Dabrowa Tarnoska and Tarnow

This morning after breakfast, Jurek Stelmech, and 20 of his students came to meet us at our hotel and walk us to their school, Zespol Szkol Ponadgimnazjalnych No. 2 which was nearby.  Dabrowa Tarnoska is a town in southern Poland of about 15, 000 residents.  We had visited here briefly last year to visit the synagogue which had been restored in 2012 and met three teachers who had been instrumental in its restoration and conversion in to an educational center and museum of Jewish culture.  We maintained contact with the teachers throughout the year and this year were invited to spend the day with them.

We started out at the school where we were once again officially greeted by the principal of the school with whom we had dinner last night.  We were accompanied upstairs by the Polish students to a room which had been prepared for our visit.  Signs with Polish and American flags, and significant quotes relative to Holocaust education chosen by the students, adorned the walls.  For example there was a quote by Janusz Korczak, a famous Polish Jewish educator who ran an orphanage in Warsaw and who walked with his 200 children to a transport which would take them to Treblinka in the great round up on August 6, 1942, which said “We must not leave the world as it is” and another by songwriter Bob Dylan, “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with their freedom.”

A witness to events in Dabrowa Tarnoska during the war, Wladyslaw Machnik, spoke to us about his interaction with Jews of the community as well as events that occurred during Nazi occupation.  We would learn later from information in the synagogue, that in 1939 the population of the town was about 6, 0000 and 80% of them, about 2,400 were Jews.  It was surprising to learn that there had been such a large percentage of Jews in the community.  150 Jews survived the Holocaust, most saved by locals, including Catholic priests who would issue false baptismal certificates and neighbors who would offer hiding places.  This assistance offered to Jews came at a great cost.  In 1942 there were 62 residents of the town who were executed for hiding Jews.  8 residents of Dabrowa County have received the title of Righteous Among the Nations from Yad Vashem for their rescue efforts.  In 1945 less than 100 Jews returned to Dabrowa Tarnowka and today there are no Jews in the town, the last surviving Jewish resident dying recently.  Mr. Machnik shared his stories and memories and we had a chance to ask questions. 

Next we were divided into two groups and were given an excerpt from a book, “Krwawe Upiory” by Adam Kazimerz Muslat, which described the fates of the Szkotak family in whose home four Jews had founding hiding in the attic unbeknownst to the family.  In a roundup the Jews were caught the family was executed.  The law which was issued by the German district governor of Warsaw on November 10, 1941, describing the penalty for helping a Jew in occupied Poland was also read.  Polish and American students and teachers then discussed the law, the event, rescue efforts in general and its ramifications.  We also talked about how though there were many Poles who did provide aid and rescued Jews, there were also many more who did not.   Why did people choose to help and why did others refuse?

After some refreshments provided by the school, we walked to the office of the Regional Superintendent of Education, Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, who greeted us and gave each of the students a gift bag from the town.


We then walked down the hill to the cultural center where we were thrilled to be able to attend the afternoon session of an all day artistic program put on by students from local high schools for the 12th annual Holocaust Day of Remembrance.  12 high schools in the counties of Tarnow and Dabrowa Tarnoska held competitions in their schools in which students chose a Yiddish or Hebrew song,  or a poem or excerpt from a book, story or play written by a Polish Jew.  Students not only learned the song or passage, but had to write essays to explain why they had chosen the piece and what it meant.  The teachers then chosen the finalists from each school and on this day they were all in the final competition.  The Master of Ceremonies was Jurek’s wife, Yola.  She introduced Mrs. Tambuscio as the leader of the Holocaust Study Tour and asked her and Mr. Barmore to say a few words about our program and how we had connected with the town, the school and the teachers.  The competition then resumed and we were treated to outstanding singing, dancing and dramatic presentations.  It was such a joyful celebration of Jewish music and words and we were so glad that we had this opportunity to witness this.  In a town with no Jews, these students and their schools and teachers had chosen to keep Jewish culture alive through this celebration on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Net we walked with Jurek and the Polish students to the beautiful restored synagogue of the town where Karolina Pikul talked to the students about how it was restored, the meaning of the paintings on the walls, and explained the artifacts.

After a brief pizza lunch with the Polish students on the grounds of the synagogue we walked across the street to the Jewish cemetery where Karolina explained the Nazis had removed all the tombstones and had used them to build roads and a pool in the area.  After the war, the locals found all the tombstones they could and brought them back to the cemetery, but without records they had no way of knowing which gravestone belonged with which grave, so they are randomly placed in the cemetery. The locals did know, however that the tombstones should face east, towards Jerusalem, so they did place them all facing east.   Karolina told us there had been two mass murders of Jews in the area.  In 1942 180 Jews had been forced to dig their grave and then were executed.  In 1943 36 members of the Judenrat [Jewish Council] in charge of the ghetto were executed.  There was also a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust  built by the Samuel Roth Foundation in 1993, using the fragments of tombstones which had been too damaged to be placed as a grave marker.  One Polish student and one American student each lit a candle and placed it at the memorial. 





Our last stop in the town was to visit a memorial to a rescuer family, the Medalas, built in 2005 to honor this family which had been executed for hiding Jews.

We drove back to the hotel where we said goodbye to our new Polish friends and picked up our luggage to head to Krakow, the last stop on the Holocaust Study Tour.  On our way we made a brief stop in Tarnow, where we visited the only remnants of the Skwer Starej Synagogue: the beautiful, tall bima.  The Nazis destroyed the synagogue in 1939 but many of the buildings that were part of the Tarnow Ghetto remain.

We arrived in Krakow at the Holiday Inn and set out on foot for our first dinner here, at the Kogel Mogel restaurant.  After dinner we walked to the Market Square where we soaked up the atmosphere, heard the bugler on the top of the hour, then headed back to the hotel for journaling, debriefing and a good night’s sleep.








 Student Reflections


Camille says…
Thank you for taking time out of your day to help us learn new things.  It felt great to feel so welcomed in your school.  You guys talked to us like we were your friends and that made me feel better about being there. 

Darya says…
I would like to thank you the community for welcoming us with so much hospitality.  The ability to be guided by the students was also a great experience because it allowed us to talk amongst each other and discuss the Holocaust and its effects and see that we share many of the same thoughts;  even though we are from different countries.  It was a pleasant day spent with nice people and I enjoyed seeing and learning about the town’s past and learning process about the Holocaust. 

Karishma says…
To the students of Zespot Szkot Ponadojemnszjalnych High School,

I would like to thank you personally for welcoming us to your country with open arms.  The cultural performance was enlightening and shows us that we can try to change the past with the future.  Your hospitality was memorable and the history you imparted on us will live forever.  Hope to see you soon.

Kyle says…
Thank you for being so warm and welcoming and making this such an enjoyable experience.  Your hospitality was so great and I just wish I had more time to get to know you.  Visiting the old synagogue was fascinating because it was in ruins and owned by the government and not too long ago it was restored to its former glory from before World War II.

Kayla says…
Thank you so much for allowing us to experience the Polish culture and for inviting us to your cultural voice presentation.  Today was a fantastic learning experience for all of us and we were honored to be part of your holocaust memorial service.

Cydney says…
Thank you so much for welcoming us into your school and sharing this experience of hearing what Mr. Machnik witnessed and learning about the synagogue.  Everyone was so welcoming and it’s fantastic that we can share our learning experiences with you all.


Caitlin says…
Thank you so much for welcoming us to your wonderful city and allowing us to be part of your ceremonies.  Listening to Mr. Machnik speak was so fasciniating and really made me think about what it meant to live in Poland during that time.  I will always remember the experiences I had today and am truly grateful for being given this opportunity.

Julie says…
It was such an amazing experience getting to meet and connect with all of the students through Mr. Machnik and his first hand realities, it was nice to see how interested the students were in the memorials and their stories as we were.

Caroline says…
I really appreciated hearing a witness speak to us today about what he saw as a young man during the Holocaust period. Thank you Mr. Machnik for your willingness to impart such a difficult story.

Julia says…
Thank you so much for welcoming me into your wonderful school. It was amazing to hear a witness speak. I loved hearing his stories. The synagogue brings so much to your history. It is so great that you renovated it and brought it back to life. I also enjoyed walking around the town. You’re doing great things at your school. Thank you.

Alejandra says…
Thank you so much for welcoming us into your school! I had so much fun visiting the school and seeing how your school is like. Thank you also for taking us to the memorial/ cemetery to learn the past of your town. Discussing the story of the family who got killed for unknowing hiding a Jewish family showed how this town did have an effect on the history and of the Holocaust.

Henry says…
Thank you for having us. Dabrowna Tarnowska is an amazing city and I loved the warm welcome. I would like to thank everyone for contributing Polish insight into the Holocaust. The cultural performance was fun and energetic.

Seungyoon says…
My new friends! I really appreciate the hospitality you showed us. You were welcoming, friendly, and funny. Thank you so much for having us. In addition, lighting the candle and placing it on the memorial at the graveyard was a once in a lifetime experience which I’ll never forget.


Taylor says…
Thank you for having us! Your performances were amazing and I felt so welcomed. Your school was wonderful and listening to Mr. Machnik speak was inspiring.
It was an amazing visit to the town of Dabrowna Tarnoska today, everyone was so friendly and it was a great learning experience. Thank you for making us feel welcome and showing us around your town. I really enjoyed the Holocaust remembrance program, you’re amazing you are all so talented!

Charlotte says…
Thank you for being so welcoming and inviting us into your school and helping us learn about your town and culture. Being able to hear the story of the witness was a great experience and especially being able to connect his story with the modern times and the student’s life was really interesting and enlightening.

Autumn says…
Thank you for your instantly greeting us with all smiles. I enjoyed hearing your student’s personal stories of their great grandparents during the Holocaust. Thank you for all the nice gifts since we have arrived to Poland. Can’t wait to explore more of Poland. Thank you so much for being so hospitable towards us and welcoming us into your town. You are all very kind, genuine people and you have a beautiful town. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time at your school and with all the students. Thank you again!














6 comments:

  1. The story "Karwawe Upiory" must be very interesting to read and find out what the ultimate fates for those people were. The newly renovated synagogue really looks spectacular and it was very well done. The memorial for the Medalas is really terrific because they did something very brave and ultimately helped very many people in the long run. It is important that we always remember these people for their crucial contributions to prevent such horrible events.

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  2. It's crazy how some people had the courage to hid Jewish people rather than them be killed. The new synagogue looks really good as well. It's nice of them to treat you guys with great hospitality.

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  4. It is so interesting that you have maintained contact with the teachers throughout the year and have built connections because of this trip. It is also really cool to see how our curriculum and what we have been learning is incorporated into the study tour. For example we have learned about Korczak and his orphanage in the movie, Uprising, which we have been watching this week. I find it amazing how the Jewish community came together in such a time of despair during Nazi occupation. Learning that Catholic priests helped the Jews during the Holocaust is amazing, considering they were willing to risk their lives in order to save another's. It is crazy how they had to take the tombs back that the Nazis had used to build roads and a pool. The stories of murder are horrible and remind me that this was just one ghetto that was affected by Nazi brutality. The memorials also looked really amazing.

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  5. It's important that there are memorials/remembrances for people who hid Jews or helped them escape- I think a lot of times those people are forgotten about. Also, I find it interesting that this town attempts to "keep Jewish culture alive," despite there not being anymore Jews in the town. It speaks to the greater necessity of learning from history, even if we may not have been personally harmed or affected by it. The restored synagogue looks amazing! It's important to save and preserve these things for future generations, or else history will be lost…same with the cemetery. After having learned about the Catholic Church's noncommittal (at best) attitude towards the Nazis and their activities, I'm glad to hear about Catholic Priests helping Jews by writing them fake Baptismal certificates to help cover up their Jewishness. It so inspiring to read about people who are willing to put their own well-being on the line to help others in times of need.

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