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Seeking a Culture of Dialogue in Poland: The Necropola where Uderstanding is Born
To prove to society the value and abilities of a child with special needs and at the same time, to save the Jewish cemetery in Koďmin Wielkopolski (in the center of Poland, near Pozna˝) from total destruction – that was the goal of a Polish teacher who is passionate about Jewish history and culture. His work, which began in 1985, not only continued, but grew and changed to a PROGRAM for international relations between young people in Poland, Israel, Germany, the Ukraine and the German minority in Poland.
The goal of this program, which is called ANTYSCHEMATY (anti-schemata), is to restore Jewish cemeteries in Poland and to make an inventory of them. However, « the secondary effects » which this activity produces and which now are collective, are much deeper. They :
- give the young people the opportunity to do away with prejudices, ready-made decisions, ideological schemata that have grown throughout history ;
- help these young people develop attitudes of acceptance and tolerance ;
- foster a discovery of their reciprocal cultures, histories and daily living ;
- facilitate better mutual knowledge and understanding in the context of work, discussion and play ;
- enable the guests from Israel to get to know interesting places which lie outside of the known itineraries for tourists.
Mr. Jerzy FORNALIK has been working for 27 years as a teacher in the center for schools and special education in Borz“ciczki (Poland). His initiative for the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Koďmin attracted interest and help from the secondary schools in Sulejówek (eastern Warsaw). In 2000, during the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Krzepice (north-west of Czestochowa), the young Poles received help from the young people in the Hartman School in Jerusalem. In 2001, the young people in the Reut School in Jerusalem helped them to restore the cemetery in Dobrodzie˝ (west of Czestochowa). In 2002, a group of young people from Poland, Holland and the Ukraine cleaned the cemetery in Bia»a (Silesia).
During the day, the young people who are very motivated use their arms and chain saws to free the tombstones, which are often very old and valuable, and during the evenings and nights, they share their impressions, their opinions and information about their countries, history, ideas they have been given, prejudices. Friendships are formed and the sharing continues by correspondence, when they often admit that they have corrected their ideas about Poland, Israel, their knowledge of the life of Jews and Poles together throughout history. Thanks to this work and sharing, a young Polish woman, for example, decided to study Hebrew at the Warsaw University, « so as to be able to read the inscriptions on the tombstones myself and above all, so as to be able to read the Bible. »
During the meeting in Krzepice, a film was made. It documents Mr. FORNALIK’s work. He proudly shows this film to visitors from Israel, Germany and elsewhere with the hope that it will be possible to continue this work.
Some of the inhabitants of the places where the young people restore the Jewish cemeteries are happy to join them in their activity. The local newspapers report on the events.
More and more, the Israeli embassy in Warsaw shows its interest in Mr. Jerzy FORNALIK’s work. Sometimes Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Mr. Shevah Weiss, comes to the places where the young people are working in order to encourage them himself.
It is planned to get young people from other countries involved in these projects to continue restoring Jewish cemeteries, of which there are many in Poland, and to add other vestiges of Jewish culture in Poland.
* Lila Licari, of Polish origin, works as a psychotherapist in France.
This article was written in July 2003 and is based on information and cuttings from press releases written in Polish by Mr. J. Fornalik.
Article translated from the French by K.E. Wolff