Father Stanisław Musiał award was established in 2008 by the Krakow Club of Christians and Jews “Przymierze” (“Covenant”). Its founders are the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, the Mayor of the City of Krakow and the Jewish Community of Krakow. The winners are selected by the Jury chaired by the Rector of the Jagiellonian University. The prize is awarded in two categories:
• for creative work in the spirit of Christian-Jewish and Polish-Jewish dialogue and cooperation,
• for social initiatives promoting Christian-Jewish and Polish-Jewish dialogue and cooperation.
For the year 2020, the prize was awarded to the historian and journalist Marian Turski and to the chairperson of the Association “Memory and Dialogue. Common history” Anna Brzyska.
Here is the text of Anna Brzyska’s speech given at the ceremony:
Ladies and gentlemen,
What can I say after Mr. Marian Turski’s speech?
Of course, I am very grateful, but I absolutely do not take it as a reward for myself. I know many people involved in Polish-Jewish dialogue, nobody does it looking for something for themselves, expecting recognition. I think, we all have one thing in common: at some point we heard the call. And it has changed our lives.
Perhaps everyone perceives this call a little differently. First of all, it is the despair of the hundreds of thousands of Jews murdered during the Holocaust, their cry for memory. But for me it is also God calling, trying to reach us. Sometimes I wonder how often it happens in our lives – in everyone’s life – when God hopes that we will notice something special that He is trying to show us, when He hopes that we will stop and do something good,
There is so much evil in the world right now, so much division. It often seems that we can’t do anything about it. However, there exists one important truth: although none of us can change the entire world, it does not relieve us of responsibility for changing to better our immediate surroundings, engaging in something good where we can. Commemorating Brzesko Jews and building Polish-Jewish dialogue has become one of such areas for me almost exactly 7 years ago.
When we encounter any injustice, anger is often our first reaction. However, anger is a bad counselor and it certainly doesn’t help in a dialogue. Perhaps I will quote here the exceptionally wise man, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “There always were two ways to live in a world that is often dark and full of fears. We can curse the darkness or we can light a light, and as the Chasidim say, a little light drives out much darkness.”
It seems to me that this is what is most lacking in today’s world. In the face of the enormity of evil and all kinds of divisions, people become either indifferent or overwhelmed with anger, and they pass these attitudes on to future generations.
We can observe it also in Polish-Jewish matters. How often each side sees only its own part of the truth and is unable to take a step forward. Plus propaganda, historical policy that often have little to do with truth. A few years ago, Bishop Grzegorz Ryś said something very important: “Memory alone – and even more so two separate and parallel memories (Jewish and Catholic – A.B.) – are not enough. We need a meeting, a dialogue, joint action … some positive and concrete experience of a community built around some good. “
This is what we are trying to do in Brzesko – connecting descendants of Brzesko Jews to their roots, organizing meetings of Jewish youth with students of Brzesko schools, commemorating the pre-war Jewish community of the city. We meet, talk, take care of the cemetery, recreate forgotten stories. We do it for the murdered – before the war, Jews constituted over 60% of Brzesko population, but also for their descendants and for us, living today. Memory is the measure of our humanity. I trust that due to our commitment to this cause, not only the souls of murdered Brzesko Jews regain freedom. Forgotten history tends to repeat itself. Looking back, we reflect on the nature of evil, we try to understand how this evil could take over entire nations. We commemorate the victims, restore their dignity, but we also look towards the future, hoping that we and our children will have enough wisdom to make good choices. That is why I am so happy that more and more young people join our activities. During the last two actions of cleaning the Jewish cemetery, about 90 students and the second time over 60 students from three Brzesko schools joined us; many students take part in the Marches of Remembrance and in our project “We know your names” dedicated to the pre-war Jewish community of Brzesko and vicinity. Our work is a constant dialogue and, frankly, I think that often this grassroots work is more important than big initiatives at the state level. So many times I have witnessed a change in the attitude of descendants of Brzesko Jews, who grew up with the conviction that Poland was a country of anti-Semites, but our common experience changed it so much. And there are also testimonies about Polish students and their attitudes towards Jews. Often a little knowledge and a few meetings with real people people are enough to change the stereotypes taken from the home.
We commemorate Brzesko Jews, we learn how to build a dialogue. But I trust that this work also changes us all on a much deeper level. We learn ourselves and teach teenagers to be sensitive to other people, to put ourselves in the place of the persecuted and to resist manipulation and propaganda. I guess it’s especially important now.
Finally, I would like to say once again that although I am honored to receive this award, it is not really about me. My merit is perhaps only in the fact that back in November 2014 I heard this call and I’ve been sticking to it ever since. It was a deep spiritual experience for me and I am grateful that because of whatever reason God showed it to me. But caring for memory and building a dialogue is the merit of many people. First of all, I owe a lot to Professor Jonathan Webber. Without his friendship and comprehensive support this work would have not been possible. I cannot but express gratitude to my husband, with whom we have shared our lives, all our problems and joys for over 29 years. Caring for this Jewish memory is also our joint work – ours and that of our children, with whom we initially came to Brzesko to clean the cemetery. With time, many people got involved in this work – couple of years ago we officially established the Association; we are supported by the city administration, municipal cultural center, library and schools. Our events are always attended by priests and rabbis; I am in constant contact with about 80 Jewish families with Brzesko roots. And that’s exactly what this work should be about, shouldn’t it? You just need to start and try to build a dialogue. Going back to Rabbi Sacks’ words, “We can curse the darkness or we can light a light, and even a little light drives out much darkness.” May we all help light up the world.
Thank you very much.
© Anna Brzyska, 2021