By sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (PhD Candidate, Religious Studies)
Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Waclaw Wierzbieniec and the Jewish History and Culture Department of University of Rzeszów’s Institute of History, with the support of local authorities and institutions, over 30 towns of the Podkarpackie Province honoured the 12th International Holocaust Remembrance Day with commemoration ceremonies that took place between 2nd January and 22 Feburary 2020. These days are unique and unmatched by any other region, as they are often organised by grass-root level organisations and initiatives in various institutions such as schools, town halls, cultural centres, parishes, village administrators etc, which get involved in the annual ceremonies’ organization.
Sr Anna Bodzinska NDS and Sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (born in the region) participated in commemorating events in various towns and villages: Rzeszów, Przemyśl, Leżańsk, Gniewczyna Leżańska, Dynów, Tyczyn, Kraczkowa, Jasionka, Pruchnik, Jarosław, and others. You can read the complete program of the 10th International Holocaust Remembrance Day (#HDR2020) here. This blog looks at a few examples of what such commemorations look like.
The 27th January ceremony commemorating the Holocaust victims in Rzeszów began with prayers at the Jewish Cemetery, including prayers recited by Rabbi Shalom Ben Stambler of Chabad-Lubavitch. There were also lectures, meetings and a concert of cymbals (a Jewish Polish instrument). Students had an opportunity to listen to and meet with Jewish Polish Holocaust Survivors, with the presence of Lucia Retman (now living in Haifa, Israel), who lived in this region before and during WWII. The commemoration in Rzeszów ended with a prayer in Fara Church, where names of those who were killed – Polish Jews and Christians – were read by Polish and Jewish representatives.
On the 29th of January, commemorations took place in in the primary school in Jasionka. Sr Katarzyna spoke to young students (13-18) about why it is important today to come and be part of Holocaust Memorial Days. A talk concerning the Kahane brothers followed.
Tyczyn prepared a full day’s programme (30th of January), which students and locals were invited to take part in. Twelve candles were lit at the Jewish Cemetery by students to remember 1200 Jews from Tyczyn who were deported and killed. Tyczyn had counted 3000 inhabitants before WWII. The cemetary commemoration was followed by a visit to a church and cemetery where several Righteous Among the Nations are buried. Students heard stories of courage and the difficult choices that locals had to face during the Nazi occupation. The cultural centre prepared a programme of meetings with Jewish visitors and guests of HRD, as well as music performance and exhibitions.
HRD in Przemyśl lasted two days (29-30 January). It began with a commemoration event to remember those who perished in Przemyśl ghetto. Students and locals had meetings with Holocaust survivors and several presentations concerning the Holocaust and Jewish and Polish history and culture.
The 12th Holocaust Remembrance Days in Podkarpacie went unnoticed in wider world media. However, it is an initiative that deserves attention as shows that grass root work is taking place in Poland concerning the Holocaust, history, memory and dialogue, and that there are many places in Podkarpacie where the Jewish past is not forgotten but, rather, is seen as integral to Polish history and Holocaust education.