The 5th edition of the project “We know your names. Commemoration of the pre-war Jewish community of Brzesko and vicinity ” took place in the school year 2021/22. The competition under the honorary patronage of the mayor of Brzesko Tomasz Latocha, was co-organized by the association “Memory and dialogue. Common history” and the Municipal Cultural Center in Brzesko. As part of preparing students for the project, we organized workshops in several schools, including those in Wojakowa and Brzesko.
This year, 18 papers by 26 students from 4 schools were submitted for the competition: Brzesko high school (teacher Bernadeta Styczeń); Brzesko primary school (teachers Dorota Pstrąg, Magdalena Sowa and Marek Wadycki); primary school in Mokrzyska (teacher Anna Grocholska) and primary school in Wojakowa (teachers Iwona Czyżycka-Duda and Halina Czyżycka-Goryl).
The award ceremony for the winners of the 5th edition of the project “We know your names” took place on April 12, 2022.
Three papers of the students from Wojakowa school were awarded the main prizes:
1. Karolina Korwin, Hanna Pajor for the paper “Tomasz and Maria Biel”
2. Martyna Bodek, Anna Maciaś, Sabina Jaworska for the paper “Stefania and Tadeusz Zapiór”
3. Maria Prusak, Karolina Szewczyk for the paper “A story of survival of Regina Riegelhaupt-Kempińska”
These three papers proved to be exceptionally detailed; the girls put a lot of effort, time and heart in them. They deal with the fate of concrete Jewish families from Wojakowa, Iwkowa, and several neighbouring villages and Poles who helped them survive. Lots of photos, very detailed source list. The girls not only used the generally available materials, but also talked with witnesses and descendants of Poles who saved the Jews. I especially want to emphasize the very mature and honest approach to the subject: in all these papers, apart from the description of the heroic attitude of Polish families who risked everything when saving their Jewish neighbours, there are also described examples of shameful behaviour towards not only fleeing Jews, but also towards Poles who helped them. Thanks to this approach, we can see that the story is not black and white, that every nation has heroes and traitors, that it is important to be proud of heroes, but at the same time not to close our eyes to other negative examples. It is unique that the girls took on such a difficult topic.
1. Kamila Nycz, Weronika Salamon for the paper “The story of Ryfka Passler and her family”
The uniqueness of this work lies in the fact that, on the basis of one image given by Ryfka Passler to her friend Stanisława Gurgul during the war, the girls managed to recreate the history of the entire large Jewish family from Okocim
2. Emilia Dudek for the paper “We were not alone in this land. The history of the Jews in the Zakliczyn ghetto.”
Emilia has a lot of specific data on Jews from Zakliczyn, their life before the war and in the Zakliczyn ghetto.
I would like to say a few words about four other papers:
1. Karolina Pajor, Gabriela Szwider “Righteous Andrzej Piechnik”. This is the fourth paper from Wojakowa, it is much shorter than the three awarded works, there are not so many details. But there are some touching testimonies of the family members about Andrzej Piechnik.
2. Lena Banaś “Hanukkah Festival in Brzesko. Lena was the only student who actually spoke with the descendants of Brzesko Jews; she managed to recreate the atmosphere of one of the most beautiful Jewish holidays once celebrated in Brzesko.
3. Karolina Grocholska, Anna Piętak “The Righteous from Brzesko”. The girls created a film in which they described the fate of two families of Righteous among the nations, Łoza and Osik..
4. Marianna Gawenda “Commemoration of the pre-war Jewish community of Brzesko and vicinity”. A very long, thoughtful, emotional work, there are some testimonies of Marianna’s father and his photos of the cemetery. “Walking on a Sunday afternoon in the deserted streets of my city, I feel that tenement houses look at me, some of them once dignified in riches, open to guests, the other squeezed but cozy, filled to the ceiling with family warmth. And then it seems that they speak to me: only we know your names… “
Photos from the award ceremony by Konrad Wójcik and Brzesko town hall.
About 2 weeks later the Association “Memory and Dialogue. Common history” organized an educational trip for all participants of the project “We know your names”.
First, we went to the Buczyna forest in Zbylitowska Góra, where about 10,000 people, mostly Jews, shot by the Germans during the war are buried in several mass graves. Several hundred Brzesko Jews murdered in December 1942 are also buried there. After the liquidation of the Brzesko ghetto in September 1942, the Germans left several hundred people in the town to clear the area. All of them were taken to Tarnów and shot 3 months later. We lit candles by the graves, recited El Male Rachamim, put the stones on the graves as the sign of our remembrance.
Adam Bartosz was already waiting for us in Tarnów. He told the students about the city’s pre-war Jewish community. We walked the streets where Jews used to live, saw a few remaining traces of this Jewish life. At the Jewish cemetery, Mr. Bartosz shared about Jewish funeral traditions; we came to the grave of Brzesko-born Mordechaj David Brandstatter, one of the first Hebrew-language writers.
The last point of the trip was Dąbrowa Tarnowska, where Paweł Chojnowski told us not only about the exceptionally beautiful synagogue, but also about the work of the Center for the Meeting of Cultures, which is located in this building.
I would like to thank once again the teachers and all the students for their commitment and remembrance of the Jewish community – people who lived in Brzesko and vicinity for several hundred years but were murdered 80 years ago. We hope to organize the 6th edition of the project “We know your names” during the next school year.
© Anna Brzyska, 2022