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"To Bring Memory Back" edition 2007-2008

Zespół Szkół Publicznych Nr 1 Gimnazjum Nr 1 linia

Who are we

Public School Complex No.1 and The Junior High School No. 1 in Ustrzyki Dolne (zsp1ustrzyki@op.pl). The project is put into practice at extracurricular classes. 2nd and 3rd grade students of the Junior High School attend the classes.

Why we do this project

‘One cannot introduce a history of Poland without presenting a tragic history of the Polish Jews as well as other religious and ethnic communities living changeably at the territory of Poland during the last thousand years of the common state. One cannot understand Polish culture without cognisance –even fleeting one- of Polish-Jewish relations. The terrifying acts of Holocaust done during the years of occupation of Poland by the Nazi German military forces, were the most tragic experience of the common past. Not only did we loose our co-citizens, but also a vital element of our cultural identity.’ (professor Jerzy Tomaszewski “Dlaczego...”, Kraków 2006)

Jewish community in our town

The beginning of the Jewish settlement in Ustrzyki Dolne can be traced back to the 17th century. This is how Andrzej Potocki, in his book entitled ‘The Jews in Podkarpackie district’ (“Żydzi w Podkarpackiem”), describes the growth of the Jewish community in our town: ‘There were 162 Jews, including 70 adults, in Ustrzyki in 1765. There was rabbi as well. By the year 1777 kehillah (a specific name of the Jewish religious community) had appeared. In 1785, 190 Jews inhabited Ustrzyki Dolne. In 1870 the Jewish community had 926 members. Moreover, it owned the synagogue, the cemetery and the school, which was attended by 30 students. Kehillah employed 2 rabbis as well. In the 1880s, most of inhabitants of Ustrzyki Dolne were of Jewish origin. In total number of 1.824 people , 1.146 were the Israelites. At the beginning of the 19th century, 61% of the inhabitants of Ustrzyki Dolne were the Jews. Unfortunately, together with World War II, terrifying acts of the Holocaust fell on the Jewish community of our town. Many Israelites were executed by shooting. The inhuman deeds were often carried out directly at the streets of Ustrzyki. A half of the Hebrews met their fate in the transitory concentration camp in Zasław and the concentration camps in Sobibor and Bełżec. Nowadays, the building of the 19th century synagogue (contemporary, the town library with the fragment of a preserved outer elevation) and kirkut (the Jewish cemetery) situated at a hill rising over the town do not allow to forget about the Jewish history of our town.        

What we do in the project

The 3rd edition of the project named ‘To Bring Memory Back’ (“Przywróćmy Pamięć”) is aimed at deepening of our cooperation with The Ustrzyki Tourist Association ‘Bieszczady’. We were occupied with cleaning up the Jewish cemetery in our hometown since September 2007. Kirkut in Ustrzyki Dolne is rather small. It is situated, very picturesquely, at the hill rising over the town, on the shore of Strwiąż lake. Once the place was totally neglected, completely overgrown with weeds, grass and bushes. One was able to reach it only during the early spring or the late autumn. A variety of rubbish indicated that the cemetery had been visited to organize parties (bottles, cans and even visible traces of bonfires). Some children built the tree house among the branchy treetop of the beautiful larch, treating the cemetery are as if it had been a playground. Fortunately, we did not notice any acts of vandalism or other deliberate attempts to destroy the beautiful tombstones. The maintenance works undertaken by us, were done according to the directives issued by The Rabbinic Commission. Our effort soon brought many positive effects – the cemetery area was cleaned up, the trees and the bushes were trimmed, and tree branches removed. In the springtime, we will have to take weeds away and mow grass.

Subsequently, together with The Tourist Society, we took an active part in cataloguing matzevots (the Jewish tombstones). 237 preserved tombstones were listed at the cemetery. 50 more remain to be catalogued. As a result, we found out that there are 300 matzevot at the Ustrzyki burial ground. The oldest of them come from the 19th century. However, taking care of the cemetery is not the only way of ‘Bringing back the memory’. The lecture accompanied by the electronic presentation entitled ‘The Symbolism Of Jewish Tombstones’ (“Symbolika nagrobków żydowskich”) delivered at Public School Complex No.1 by Andrzej Szczerbicki as a part of ‘Our Prmissed Land’ (“Ziemia Obecana”) project, was a great follow-up of our work. Currently, we are trying to decode the inscriptions from the photographed matzevot. The skill will be very useful in the future because we plan to show our schoolmates attending The Primary School and The Junior High School round the route named ‘The Jewish relics of the past’ (“Żydowskie Zabytki”)  in Ustrzyki Dolne.

We also intend to invite students from other schools of our region who participate in ‘To Bring memory Back’ programme (“Przywróćmy Pamięć”).

The Ustrzyki Tourist Association ‘Bieszczady’ marked the way to the Jewish cemetery. Kirkut is located very picturesquely but the way leading from the town had not been marked properly before. Even the inhabitants of Ustrzyki Dolne had major difficulties with showing tourists the right way to kirkut. Nowadays, the track is marked in such a way that one can find the right direction without any problems. The signs situated in the town centre inform very extensively about the existence of the historical Jewish cemetery. The works that aimed at cleaning up and organising the whole area of the burial ground were brought to a close by setting up the information sign that contains vital data and facts written in 3 languages. Moreover, the photographic exhibition was held in The Municipal Culture Centre. We took an active part in opening the tourist route round the Jewish cemetery as well as in setting up the information sign and, as a result, we were invited to the exhibition. Our schoolmates were noticed about the photographic exposition as well. Now, we act as if we were tourist guides and show our peers round the exhibition, providing them with the information about each and every photograph and the tragic history of the Jews of our region. This stage of our activity will be of great importance while carrying out further actions in the future as a part of ‘To Bring Memory Back’ programme (“Przywróćmy Pamięć”).

What we are going to do next

What We Plan To Do In The Next Stage Of Our Project.
On November 5, we plan to open the exhibition entitled ‘Wailing Wall’ (“Ściana Płaczu”) in The District and Municipal Public Library. The embassy of Israel in Warsaw made the exposition accessible. The main exhibition will also be accompanied with two more separate expositions. The first one will inform the inhabitants of Ustrzyki Dolne about our part in ‘To Bring Memory Back’ project (“Przywróćmy Pamięć”). The second one will present the photographs taken by the students.

On November 10, we plan to take part in the regional training held in Rzeszów and being organised by The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage (Fundacja Ochrony Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego - FODŻ )

Who is helping us

The board of directors and the teachers of The Junior High School in Ustrzyki Dolne, The Ustrzyki Tourist Association ‘Bieszczady’, The Museum – The Place of Memory in Bełżec, The Municipal Culture Centre and The Municipal Public Library in Ustrzyki Dolne.


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