Olga Kaczmarek, Professor in the University of Warsaw’s Cultural Studies Department and Director of International Relations for the Forum for Dialogue, met with a dozen Friends of the Forum Sunday afternoon, October 23, at the home of Friends Chair Michael Rosenbaum to talk about the success the Forum for Dialogue has had in Poland and the challenges it faces. The Forum is a nonprofit Polish organization whose mission is “to foster Polish-Jewish dialogue, eradicate anti-Semitism, and teach tolerance through education.” The Polish American Librarians Association consults with and advises the group and partnered with the Friends to produce an annotated bibliography of the best books about Poland and the Holocaust.
Since its founding in Warsaw in 1998, the Forum fulfills its mission through seminars, publications, exhibitions, and exchange programs targeted at Polish and Jewish youth and leaders. Kaczmarek explained that “contemporary Poland teaches students about the Holocaust, albeit in a fairly centralized way; Communist Poland taught nothing about the Holocaust or about Jewish life in Poland before the war.” Rosenbaum talked about the manner in which the Forum’s “School for Dialogue” encourages students to engage in a process of discovery, often focusing on their own communities.
Kaczmarek explained that the School of Dialogue, established in 2008, aims at broadening middle school and high school students’ knowledge about the long presence of Jews in Poland in the places where the students live. One example she cited was the village of Grodzisk Mazowiecki, where “the students’ project brought more attention to the Jewish heritage of the town, contributing to changing community’s involvement in commemorating the Jewish residents of the town,” she said.
Kaczmarek also stated that there is now in Poland a “neuro-network” of knowledge of the history of Jewish life in Poland and a waiting list of students and teachers who want to get involved in the program. Asked what motivated her to become involved with the Forum, she recalled growing up in a town where, if you looked, you could see what the Jewish contribution had been but during the Communist era was not acknowledged. “Something was missing,” she said.
PALA President Leonard Kniffel attended the meeting and talked about the Association’s efforts, in partnership with the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, to ensure that Polish history and culture are more accurately and fully represented in America’s libraries.