We started together in October 2010. Most of us are students of the High School no. 25. We are a group of young people who came closer together during our trip to France. Our French correspondents wished to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, as it is the main site of the annihilation of European Jews by Germans.
We decided that when they come here in the spring, we would show them not only the camp but also the centuries-old history of Polish Jews.
As we wanted to prepare well for the role of guides, together with our supervisors we developed a project called “And I Still See Their Faces” that turned out to be one of the few projects approved for implementation by the Foundation for the Development of the Education System, as part of the programme “Youth in Action.” This gave us a chance to show our French friends the history of Poznań Jews and to invite them for a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and to Cracow.
We took part in a city game following the traces of Poznań Jews. The game started at the place of the former Jewish cemetery located at 26 Głogowska street, where Akiva Eger’s symbolic gravestone had been erected. To start with, each team was provided with information about its starting point. Ours was at Dominikańska street.
Each starting point was somehow connected with the history of Poznań Jews, which made us realize how many of such sites there were in our city. The finishing point, the same for all the participants, was at the seat of Poznań branch of the Association of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, located at Stawna street. The hosts treated us to hot tea, biscuits and a genuine Jewish challah (without crumble topping). We also met there the visitors who had come to Poznań for the 14th Day of Judaism. Each game participant was given a Polish edition of the book by Felicja Bryn, entitled Never Forget to Lie. The game proved to be a great fun and an interesting way to acquire knowledge on Poznań Jews, for which we are very grateful to the organizers.
We entered into cooperation with representatives of the Jewish Community in Poznań, to whom we presented our plans concerning the exchange programme, asking also for their help in carrying out the whole undertaking. We were received there warmly and assured of the Community’s great desire to help us in our search for information about Poznań Jews, for which we would like to thank everybody very much.
We saw a film by Jolanta Dylewska, entitled Po-Lin, based on the material filmed by amateur film-makers who had emigrated to America and then came to Poland to visit their relatives. The archive film material was provided with a commentary based on Jewish Memory Books written down after the war by Holocaust survivors and intended to keep the memory of Jewish communities once living in small Polish towns. Thanks to the film we had a chance to see at least a small part of the world of Polish Jewry.
We started our arrangements for carrying out the project of acting out Jewish life scenes in Cracow Kazimierz, and so – drama workshops began. Our instructor started with helping us overcome our intrinsic opposition to fooling in public: we were jumping, running, dancing in circles… Then we discussed our idea and possible ways of carrying it out. The instructor suggested that we should think of a story, which could make it easier for us to practice specific skills, focusing on a specific example. We’ll think of it.
We started to get ready to increase our knowledge. At first, we decided to see what we already knew. We asked our supervisors to prepare questionnaires for us with questions on democracy and Jewish culture. Our impressions after we’d completed the questionnaires were mixed: we did quite well as far as democracy was concerned, but as for the questions on Jewish culture…well L, the project is a must. And as in today’s world it’s hard to do without specialization, we got divided into a group of journalists and a group of actors :)
Today we had workshops devoted to totalitarianism and each of us was asked to study a fragment from the history of Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, Poland, England and France of the inter-war period. Then we placed the collected pieces of information on a large sheet of grey paper and, what we achieved, was a juxtaposition of totalitarianism (Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union), authoritarianism (Poland), and democracy (England, France).
Our studies revealed that the main feature of totalitarianism was taking the life of the citizens of a given country completely (totally) under control, which meant controlling their private and professional life all year long, 24 hours a day, non-stop.
At the meeting for all of us involved in the project we decided together on the performance to be prepared. Some time ago we’d got in touch with our instructor, and today she presented us her suggestion for the performance. Her idea combines real life with symbolic reference to the Holocaust. And so, at the beginning we are going to feature children playing at school, then a Jewish wedding, and finally we are to present unfulfilled dreams. Time to get down to work…
Today we had journalist workshops. We got to know the equipment we’re going to use (dictaphones and computers) and we started to practise carrying out interviews.
We had a chance to listen to the lecture of Alicja Kobus, the Poznań branch leader of the Association of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland. The lecture was devoted to Jewish culture. Our guest talked about the most important Jewish festivals, such as Rosz ha-Szana – the Jewish New Year, Pesach – celebrating the exodus of Jews from Egypt, Purim – commemorating the events described in the Book of Esther. We also learned where in Poznań rabbi Akiwa Eger had been buried and we could see a traditional (even though contemporary) Jewish wedding ceremony. The meeting was extremely interesting. It was scheduled for one hour but we had so many questions that it finally took two, and it could still go on for another one.
Today the album And I Still See Their Faces came to school, which let us finally complete collecting the iconographic material for the exhibition. In our collection we had CDs with photographs lent us by the Jewish Community and the album Żydzi w Poznaniu w XIX wieku (Poznań Jews in 19th Century).
We meet more and more often now. Our French guest are arriving soon, and there is still plenty of work to do. Our today’s workshops were about democracy: we remembered the content of the most renowned documents defining this political system, that is the United States Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and we reflected on whether the ideals included in those documents are still valid. We decided that they are, noting, however, that they are still fulfilled only partly. Our conclusion after the workshops is as follows: democracy constitutes a political system that is always under construction, and each generation has to take care of it itself in its own time.
We started to browse through the collected materials for the exhibition. It took us quite a lot of time, everything is really interesting. It’s going to be really difficult to decide what to choose.
Today some of us attended journalist, and others art workshops. Initially, we hadn’t plan to have art workshops but when we realized that we’d collected so much material for the exhibition that we were not able to put everything on display in an interesting way, we decided we needed some help from visual artists.
At the journalist workshops we started to learn how to edit our recordings. Seeing how radio works behind the scenes was an interesting experience.
We were practising the performance today. It all looked quite weird as now and then the rehearsal was stopped by “that’s the part for the French,” so for the time being the performance is somewhat holey. Hopefully, our French guests are going to like our ideas. Anyway, we are really having fun.
We have the costumes for the performance. We’ve borrowed everything from the theatre: yarmulkes, side locks, a wedding gown… we are going to look as true Jews… That’s, at least, what we hope for.
At the art workshops, our visual art instructor helped us prepare the exhibition to be installed. The last corrections done, and now we can only hope that our work will be appreciated.
Earlier we took part in history workshops: we were talking about Germans who had abandoned the idea of democracy and about the reasons of Hitler’s rise to power. We could see that it had not been so easy: NSDAP won majority in Parliament, yet, it didn’t give the party whole power. We also realized that democracy in a country depends on whether the citizens are ready to defend it.
And so it started… While waiting for our French guests to arrive, we installed our part of the exhibition about Jews (there would be no time for that tomorrow). About 5.00 p.m. they finally arrived. We were very happy as we’d really missed our correspondents. The welcome in front of the school building was very warm, afterwards we all went home – our guests deserved a good rest after the long journey.
In the morning the official welcome of our guests from France took place. The refreshments had been prepared by our school friends, who’d also set the table beautifully – thank you for that.
After that we quickly helped to install the French part of the exhibition, including photographs and descriptions featuring French Jews, particularly the Jews of Brittany. Director opened the exhibition, and we were the ones to present it.
Next, we took a tram to get to Stawna street, to the seat of Poznań Jewish community, where we met with some Jews living in Poznań, and where we could see a functioning synagogue. We also visited a former synagogue that during the II World War had been converted by Germans into a swimming pool. We’re trying to find there those places that could be seen on the photos from the time before the profanation. It wasn’t easy…
And in the afternoon it was time to relax over the Strzeszyńskie Lake. We could rest in an active way: playing volleyball, football; or passively: enjoying a bone fire and roasted sausages. To cut it short, something nice for everyone.
We started this day visiting the reconstructed fragment of the pre-war Jewish cemetery, where the grave of the most famous Poznań rabbi, Akiwa Eger, is located.
Then, we took an excursion tram from the Theatre Bridge to show Poznań from the tram windows to our guests.
After this short trip we got divided into groups and carried out questionnaires at the Old Square, examining the attitudes of the surveyed people towards Jews.
After lunch we got down to work on the questionnaire: we typed the results into the spreadsheet programme, it took a lot of typing…
We’ve spent this day with our families (after all it was Sunday) and everyone had their own programme to cover.
At a scary 5.00 o’clock in the morning!!! we left Poznań – it was surprisingly light out there. On the way to Oświęcim we remembered everything we knew about the system of the Third Reich concentration camps, and we made ourselves prepared to the tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
We were sightseeing the camp in national groups. Each of us was deeply moved by different things, but we all agreed on one reflection: everybody should come here to, at least in a small part, realize, what had happened here.
During the last part of the journey – the trip from Cracow – the bus was immersed in silence.
In the morning we met our city guides at Wawel Castle and in groups set on a sightseeing tour of Cracow, each group with its guide. We saw the courtyard of the Castle, the cathedral, Rynek underground museum, as well as the courtyard of Collegium Maius, and each of us could hear the story of Cracow in one’s own language.
In the afternoon we came to Kazimierz: there we were looking for a good place for our performance. We identified the places connected with the film Schindler’s List that we had watched before, and we organized a short quiz to see how much we already knew about Jews and their culture.
After dinner we started the arrangements for the performance that is to take place tomorrow.
After breakfast we changed into our Jewish costumes and headed for Kazimierz to start rehearsing for the performance. Cracow is a city where unusually dressed people are nothing unusual, so we didn’t attract too much attention of the passers-by. It had taken a long time until we were satisfied with the effects of our efforts and finally decided to film the performance.
During the rehearsals and final presentation we were accompanied by an international audience, whom we asked to share their impressions with us.
Late in the afternoon we got on the bus and left Cracow. On our way back we checked the results of the questionnaires we’d carried out on Saturday at the Old Square in Poznań – we had a lively discussion about it.
We reached Poznań very late (there had been a huge traffic jam caused by a car accident) and all we went back to our homes as soon as possible.
This morning we said goodbye to our French guests. It couldn’t happen without tears, but we would see each other again some day, for sure.
It’s been almost a month since our French guests left, so we’ve had enough time to arrange our impressions. At today’s meeting we saw the film shot in Kazimierz, and we had yet another chance to check our knowledge on Jews (the exchange apparently brought its effects). Then we were talking, remembering…
At the journalist workshops we started to edit the interviews that we had filmed during the performance in Cracow Kazimierz. We couldn’t get to it earlier. First there were matura examinations (and our instructor was not available), then the time for giving us final grades at school came (and this time we couldn’t make it). Well, that’s how it sometimes goes…
The last journalist workshops: we’re putting the last finishing touches on the sound track for the presentation of the performance in Cracow Kazimierz. Presentations concerning the exhibition, questionnaire results also need only cosmetic touch-ups, the film is ready – which means, we’re almost finished!!!!!!!! Almost, as we still have to send out the DVDs to schools, yet, we’ve decided to do it in September because during the holidays, schools are empty, as they usually are during holidays.