Essay Competition

On the eve of July 14th ceremony an evening event took place in Nowy Dwor’s cultural center to celebrate Nowy Dwor's past Jewish life.  A high school history teacher presented a 300 year history of Nowy Dwor’s Jewish community. This was followed by reading the best essay of the over 30 essays composed by Nowy Dwor local high school students on the theme of “Tolerance and Dialog” and presenting awards to the three winners (pictured below).  The best essay was composed by Bartosz Cheda.

A choir from Warsaw’s Jewish community sung pre-war Yiddish shtetel songs.  The entire evening was a moving experience as Nowy Dwor’s Jewish life was revived for three short hours, and as the young generation of Nowy Dwor Mazowiecki recognized its past Jewish residents as an integral part of their town history and heritage.  The three best essays are displayed below.

Bartosz Cheda
Agata Tomaszewska
Wojciech Filipiak
Ceremony Remarks by John Kerr


 My friend

By Bartosz Cheda


     Some time ago, I came across a copy of the weekly newspaper “Angora”, where I read that the public prosecutor’s office refused to initiate court proceedings in the issue of the newspaper’s cover content. Apparently, the editorial staff was accused of promotion of the content that was similar to anti-Semitic caricatures, which were used by Nazis. Intrigued, I found an April issue of “Angora”. The cover depicted two Jews standing in front of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. Above a head of one of them there was a sentence: “Son, one day this will be yours” and, additionally, a huge title with the question: “What else should we give back to Jews?” Shocked and touched by the content of the article, I found a website of the Association against Anti-Semitism and Racism “Otwarta Rzeczpospolita” (“Open Republic”). I also began to look into other publications concerning history of Polish-Jewish relations… and exactly there, at that point, some doubts crossed my mind. I realized that, immodestly speaking, despite being only 15 years old, my historical knowledge is quite wide, but amateur; however, I came to conclusion that I still don’t know much about the history of Polish Jews. My parents taught me that it is ignorance what, as a rule, is the source of stereotypes and myths concerning on the one hand unreal convictions about Polish anti-Semitism, but on the other hand about anti-Polonism of Jews who are Polish citizens. However, fates of these both nations on the territory of Poland were connected from the end of 11th century through thick and thin.

      How this story can refer to every average day, a day spent at school – Public Junior High School in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki – in the group of peers, whose world view is mostly shaped by verbal information told by generations? This information, these stereotypes help everybody in the world to feel safe and to understand the reality around us. I am very young but I am aware of the fact that being constantly exposed to views, which are strongly established, not prone to changes and additionally, full of negative emotions can lead us to the point from which it is very close to prejudice and then to aggression towards others.

     At this point, looking at my best school friend, I began to think and asked myself a question:  what would I do, how would I behave if one day he told me: “Bartek, I’ve been thinking for a long time if I should tell you that I am a Jew”. Dear God – I thought – would it be a shock, which would change our relations? I don’t think so, I am even sure, it wouldn’t. I wasn’t born in interwar Poland, I don’t know any Jewish citizen personally, but I know one important thing – I belong to the generation brought up in a free, democratic country. I don’t know what ghetto is, I don’t know and I wouldn’t like to experience the students’ segregation – into “real” Poles and “others” – worse. I have never been and I don’t want to be a witness of raiding parties’ actions beating my colleagues Jews for… for what? For being Polish Jews, for praying in synagogue and not in Roman- Catholic church? The truth is that most of them for decades served Poland. Some of them with wisdom, others with financial support, others with a sword and their own blood.

     I would also tell my “new-old” friend: “Tell me about your family customs, explain the words: goy, kirkut, tzadik, Tora and many others, which of course I came across, but which exact meaning I still don’t know”. I would also say: “You can count on me in difficult situations, when someone on purpose or because of his/her own stupidity, lack of knowledge or willingness to do harm will start shouting offensive words in your direction, concerning your Jewish origin”. We are all equal citizens of our country, we don’t differ, although you celebrate Pesach, Jom Kippur or Sukkot and I have Christmas, Easter or All Saints’ Day. We both have winter and summer holidays. We go for school trips together, we celebrate our birthdays together, we come back from school together, we visit ourselves and we know our families. We enjoy spending time together and we are interested in the same girls. Perhaps we will go to the same high school. We respect and support one another. Sometimes we are jealous of our successes. And suddenly this “terrifying” news: “My friend, you are a Jew”. The same Polish Jews, such as: colonel Berek Joselewicz – officer of Polish legions in Italy, like Bernard Mond – forgotten general of 205th regiment of infantry fighting in the suburbs of Warsaw in 1920, like Julian Unszlicht – the patriot defending good name of Poland from slanders or Kazimierz Sterling – stigmatizing signs of Jewish separatism.

     What does it mean to be a Polish Jew? It means that you love Poland as much as the others. It means that you are an equal citizen, that you have always and everywhere the same rights and you do all your duties for the country as well as you can. Do while listening to piano concerts of the world citizen, but always loving Poland – Arthur Rubinstein – we receive the sound of Chopin in another way than in performance of Piotr Paleczny? And fairy tales by Jan Brzechwa or history of Polish Piast and Jagiellon dynasties by Paweł Jasienica or Jan Korczak’s pedagogical output aren’t the certificate of these people’s contribution into Polish culture? So, let’s remember about this, me and you, my Jewish friend. Others should also remember: our pals, parents, teachers, priests and RE teachers, that we are all responsible for – no matter how proudly it sounds – freedom of choice for me and for you; for safe being who we want to be. Despite being so young, we both realize that excluding anybody, which leads to marginalization of those who think, feel or believe in a different way, is still quite a serious problem of Polish modern society. As a head-editor of school newspaper “Beton” (“Concrete”) I am sure that together we can do a lot. Not only by using beautiful words, but by taking specific actions. We both have right to think of ourselves as tolerant and broad-minded people, although with personality which is not fully shaped. We must know that xenophobia, bigotry, nationalism and hostility towards all the “others” are actions, which sooner or later will lead every society to nothing.

     From family discussions I know that the history of Polish-Jewish relations was rich in dramatic events but it had also some beautiful pages. Apart from szmalcownicy (people who blackmailed Jews during World War II) there was Irena Sendler, and apart from Jedwabne, tens, if not hundreds, of polish families who were killed by Nazis shortly after finding Jews who were hiding in their houses. Except for those, who took advantage of “golden harvest”, there was a selfless help from average Poles. There was also mutual fight and support in April 1943 and August 1944. There were heroes such as Mordechaj Anielewicz and Marek Edelman, Jan Karski or Władysław Bartoszewski. Nevertheless, the society which approves of the destruction of the authority of people brave enough to speak openly about wickedness and defend weak, in fact, it legalizes pathology. Today I know that in order to behave properly towards others, it is necessary to know the moral rules with the basic slogan: “Do as you would be done by”. I also know that there are people who try to carry it out in everyday life. But there are also those who don’t want or can’t understand it. Respecting and obeying the law give the guarantee for proper functioning of enlightened society, society of 21st century. Luckily, in my school, nobody draws gallows with David’s Star or writes offensive slogans.

     In civilized world, in order to assess humans we don’t need his view, faith or its lack. The only thing that is important is personal honesty.

     I hope that new generation, my and my friend’s, will do everything so that such bad points as irrationalism, envy and conformism will become past. Otherwise, so-called republican triple “FREEDOM, EGALITY, BROTHERHOOD” will remain empty words.


 We are united by a common fate... About tolerance and dialogue

By Agata Tomaszewska


     When we voice our opinion about tolerance, we think about people who share different views, different religion, social background and different morals. Usually these differences are emphasized in human relationships, clothes, language and attitudes. How do we react when we see people who are different from us? What are our views about the diversity mentioned above? Leszek Kołakowski tries to answer these questions in his text: 'Human fate is common.' I think that this title corresponds very well to the topic of my project, it makes me feel deeply and induces to find examples, but first of all it  makes a good start to the author's and my deeper deliberations. With special attention, I read the extract of this statement: '...the better we we make our world, the more open we are to tolerance and belief that human fate is common for all people.' The statement quoted above shows that a close look at cultural, linguistic, moral diversity is the most important aspect because it enables to discover its beauty and wealth of civilization. How poor will our world be if we are all the same?

      The problem of tolerance and dialogue is undoubtedly a crucial issue if respected authorities, such as mentioned Leszek Kołakowski or Pope John Paul II, discussed these ideas. In his latest book: 'Memory and identity' Pope John Paul II recollected his primary school where one third of his classmates were Jews, most of them his friends. The author drew the readers' attention to the fact that many Jews  showed 'Polish patriotism'. He also pointed out that cramped conditions and closure do not serve the attitudes of tolerance and building dialogues. It reminds me of the Polish nobility  in the 17th centuries. It is difficult to imagine how Poland and the Polish people suffered from xenophobia, religious intolerance, a belief in horoscopes, all that mumbo-jumbo and superstitions.   I can give an example of the collapse of Polish universities caused by aversion to foreign students and university teachers of foreign descent, who had to leave our country. In his book, Karol Wojtyła contrasted this idea with the Polish Jagielonska era when Poland consisted of many nations, cultures, religions in the spirit of peace.

      The word 'tolerance' is frequently used nowadays. We can hear it in the media, school, literature. But do we understand its meaning? Do we realize what is hidden behind the statement; 'I am tolerant?' A dictionary of the Polish language gives us a definition: 'Tolerance is an acknowledgement of somebody's views, beliefs, tastes, behavior which differ from our own; understanding.' I decided to carry out a short survey for my peers to check what they mean by tolerance.

      My first impression after looking at the results was quite good, most of the students could explain the notion tolerance. However, after the analysis of their answers I got worried. It seemed that they could not give examples of discrimination and intolerance. Some of the respondents suggested racism, others noticed homosexual discrimination or people of different religion, the rest left blanks.

      I live in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki near Warsaw. My hometown has centuries-old tradition, which was created by Poles and representatives of different nations, culture, religion. There were Jews, Germans, Russians... Their number grew gradually as well as their contribution to social life. You can only click to see the website of my town, read the information about multicultural dialogue which has existed for centuries. Stanisław Gołąb wrote: 'An illustrated monograph on the town of Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki with the history of Modlin Twierdza'. In this book he created the image of Jewish community came to Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki from Ukraine where they were persecuted by Cossacks in 18th century. There were also representatives of other nationalities and faith: Germans, Russians, Evangelists, Muslims. I can give the example of the Red Tower, called the Tatar, where soldiers from Caucasus gathered during the period of the Partitions of Poland. So, Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki is an absolute mixture of nationalities and cultures. There is a lot of evidence that mutual tolerance and ability to peaceful coexistence create favorable conditions for development. Over the centuries our town was ruled by people of different faith in comparison to the majority of inhabitants. It is an excellent example how efficient multicultural and multi-religion cooperation could influence on everyday life and support common interests. It was seen clearly in the interwar period when Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki was in its heyday.

      There are also representatives of different national minorities in Polish literature. They are often Jewish assimilated with Polish people or persecuted by anti-Semites. The topic of the Holocaust was also mentioned. There is an example of a work: 'Pan Tadeusz' where we can meet a Jew who is an authority among Polish people. Jankiel ran an inn where he was highly regarded and respected. He was not ashamed of his background, he wore traditional Jewish clothes – a long dress, called 'szarafan', fastened with silver hooks and eyes. We know that Jankiel was not a young man; he always wore a long, characteristic beard. His most important traits were warmth, cheerfulness and honesty. He was thought to be a great lover of fun and a talented musician. In the 12th book of Mickiewicz's epic, Jankiel was portrayed as a master of playing the dulcimer – the traditional Jewish musical instrument. He played a melody, which reminded the inhabitants of Soplicowo of important events from the Polish history, such as the 3rd May Constitution establishment or the Polish legions creation in Italy. Jankiel played the dulcimer in such a heartbreaking way, which indicates that he knew the history of our country perfectly. Certainly, he felt Polish partly and he spoke Polish very well. He was famous in the neighborhood for his good nature, he managed money economically and he never lied.  He let the gentry drown their sorrows but he hated drunkenness. Everybody could enter an inn, entertain with the sound of the double bass or other musical instrument.

      However, life and literature do not always show such pastoral pictures. When I was reading a story of Arthur Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes called 'The five orange pips' I came across the abbreviation KKK and I immediately decided to check what it meant. KKK derived from the organization name – Ku Klux Klan, which was built soon after the end of the American Civil War. At first, this group helped widows and orphans of killed soldiers during the Confederacy. With the passing of time KKK was transformed into a racist organization, which propagated the superiority of a white human, especially English-speaking Protestant over the others. This organization used terrorist methods to fight against equal rights of Afro-Americans, Jews and also those who were favorably inclined towards white people. This is an example of extreme intolerance, discrimination. What is more a profound hatred towards another person, which can lead to many tragedies of a single man, a whole family, community. While reading 'The five orange pips' I found out that a person who stated different views from KKK was an enemy. The enemies should have been killed and they did not have the opportunity to choose who they wanted to be. It happened to three main characters of 'The five orange pips' and if it were not for Sherlock Holmes I would not get interested in this history of one of the most brutal racist organization.

      While writing this project I cannot pass over the topic of the Holocaust. This issue is presented in 'Conversations with an executioner' by Kazimierz Moczarski. He introduced Jurgen Stroop who was a cynical initiator of different forms of genocide, particularly the hatred towards Jewish. Without any pricks of conscience, he told a mate in prison about all his crimes, underlying inferiority of fighting people. This character is not fictional; he is a real Nazi who closed down the Warsaw Ghetto.

      The war fate did not save Jews living in our town. Many families left Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki forever. A misguided opinion that some people are worse led to brutal antisemitism. During the battle in Modlin Twierdza the synagogue was destroyed, and even the Jewish cemetery where the invader stole the gravestones and made pavements from them. In town a new ghetto was built and extended and then people were taken to forced labour or Oświęcim to be heading towards certain death.

      Modern communities are diverse because of numerous immigration, so we cannot avoid dissimilarity, besides there is no such a need. I wrote before that cultural diversity can give an opportunity to meet different people and promote our legacy. I think that it is important to build multicultural dialogue and realize that diversity is a reason that the world is becoming more beautiful. I repeat Leszek Kołakowski's words: 'Human fate is common' and we should remember that.  We do not often realize how much we can learn from people of different cultures, traditions, faith. When we get to know somebody, we can have intellectual experiences, broaden our horizons and make the world better.


 Tolerance and Intercultural Dialogue

By Wojciech Filipiak 



     The word “tolerance” is derived from Latin “tolerare,” that means, “to suffer,” “to bear”…

      For sociologists it is an attitude attempted to be objection to discrimination of others, for example, because of religion, opinion, sexual orientation, race, social background, gender, financial status or of any other cases.

      It’s difficult to define “tolerance” and how it should be perceived. We should try to state some rules first. We cannot allow our tolerance to be against the whole society of the world. Exaggerated saying that we are tolerant leads to exclusion of some groups of people and intolerance towards the intolerant. Such an attitude leads to further paradoxes and even persecution. The roles start to turn and the whole process begins once more. Firstly we ought to find “the golden mean” so we have to create the most compromising solution.

      Every day many people face intolerant actions, they are harassed mainly because of their social background, religion and sexual orientation. The people, who persecute, often maintain that they do it in the name of their religion. They don’t respect the other creed but demand respect for their own! Moreover, people who proclaim their own opinions are also sneered at. I wonder about one thing: how it is possible to demand respect for oneself when you don’t have it for others.  Jeering at others needs some external factor – how can it be possible to offend someone we don’t know, understand?

      In the Enlightenment philosophers proclaimed the rule, which told people to live without hampering others (“live and let others live, be free and don’t take anyone their freedom away”).

      The matter of religion is most often mentioned about the Jews and the Holocaust during the World War 2. This issue was connected with Nazi theory of superiority of the Aryan race over other nations, especially the Jewish and the Slavic. Germans were supposed to be better than the rest; they needed more living space that they tried to gain by conquering areas inhabited mainly by Slavs. Germans wanted to turn these people into slaves and even to bring them to extermination. Purity of the race became the priority for the Nazi and that led to the most horrific crime against humanity. The Jews were persecuted in particular. Why? Because of their belief, they were chosen by God Jahwe?

      In the Middle Ages, when the feudal system was formed, there was no tolerance towards heretics in Christian Europe. All apostasies from Catholic Church were suppressed and the best example is the crusade towards the Quatars in the south of France during the XIII century. The crusades were particularly bloody – the Quatars were murdered, burnt at the stake, hung and everything was done in the name of God. Persecutions affected also the Jews very frequently then. These events show in a cruel way what intolerance means. As the legend goes, after conquering one of the towns, the archbishop Amaury told to kill all people gathered in the church (among them there were Quatars, Jews and Catholics). He said, “Kill them all, God will recognize His people”.

      Otherwise, in other parts of the world the Christians were unwelcome thanks to the fact Romans persecuted them in the beginning and called the first Christians the Jewish sect.

      While writing this text I still have an impression that groups, pestered before, change their places and they turn into aggressors, as Christians, persecuted by Neron and murdered in the Rome Coliseum, started to torment believers of different religions.

      Thus, tolerance is the thing everyone expects and this should be entitled for everyone with no matter who the person is and what they do, but tolerance should be considered in different ways. In fact, we can’t be tolerant towards every behavior and we can’t tolerate intolerance. However, this must be done in a gentle way, otherwise it can lead to negation of people whose attitudes are often critical.

      We are trying to discover ourselves. Following fashion or some ideas cause differences between us. When we strive for some ideas or escape from them, we can face new misunderstandings. Following any example – good or bad- makes us pretend someone else. That thing can change us into creatures dependent from many limitations, apart from the law of nature and our conscience.

      Everyone is different and that’s why these differences become the cause of discrimination. Our individuality is depressed when we try to live in a different way. Not everyone has to be a mathematician, not everyone has to smoke or get married, we have freedom of conscience; we don’t have to do anything. It happens because we differ from each other and thanks to it we can call ourselves humans, we created different civilizations. So everyone should accept dissimilarity and discrimination ought to vanish.

      In case of different cultures, religions and nations we need a dialogue the Pope John Paul II appealed for. The Pope wanted peace for the world, he wished no one would suffer from persecution and everyone would follow love in their lives. He told that the person who loves God is close to God. John Paul II didn’t pay attention if this God’s name was Jahwe, Allah or Buddha.  Among nations, religions and different communities we need peace, which can help us to make progress because war is the only source of misery and backwardness.

      It was the Pope John Paul II who called for the dialogue among religions. That was him who summoned representatives of all religions for prayer in common. He also, as the first Pope in history, was praying in a Jewish synagogue and in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The Pope wanted all religions to live in peace and cooperate despite prejudices.

      To achieve cooperation among different religions, he pleaded guilty on Catholic Church behalf, without forgetting about persecution of the Jews. Only such a behavior, when everyone admits of guilt and starts to forgive, can lead to repair of our world. Quarrels and disagreement can cause aggression.

      Anti-Antisemitism was completely condemned by the Pope. He personally remembered tragedy of his friends during the war. It was the World War II that left its stamp on him and it made him want peace not war. Wars only make people suffer enormously.

It’s said that war can cause only the next war. Only full harmony should be always be on the first place when we build free world. If there is peace, there won’t be famine, poverty or disorders.  Permanent agreement should be the main topic of the dialogue among nations.

      Maybe the source of the problem is money and power. When some country runs its economy with a lot of benefits, it is able to control the prices in the whole world and soon there is danger of unfair dealings and manipulation.

      Maybe people don’t understand each other because they don’t know what power means. Maybe disagreements come from jealousy, don’t they?

      Power and money, this combination is the biggest failure in human history. It is said that no one had thought of fraud before monetary awards were introduced during the Olympics in ancient Olympia…

      Possibly we need to try to change people’s thinking about this topic, we need to make them aware that money and power is not the most important in their life and it can help them to reach an agreement among different nations.

      The dialogue is necessary, because without conversation and attempts to agree, we can’t achieve anything. Every case, advantages and disadvantages should be precisely examined, because it can happen that disadvantage may become a good side once…

      Regardless of who we are, where we live, what views we present, we ought to respect each other in spite of our differences and disadvantages.


 Nowy Dwor Memorial Ceremony Remarks

By John Kerr


     First, I would like to thank Ze’ev Shaked for his vision and tireless efforts to turn his dream of the Nowy Dwor Jewish Memorial into a reality and for inviting me to take part in this ceremony.  It is a great honor and privilege to have been asked to speak on this solemn occasion.  Yet it is difficult for me, an American born shortly after the end of the war and raised in the prosperity of a nation scarcely touched by it, to imagine the enormity of the suffering that occurred here, the suffering of the millions of victims of the most horrific crime in human history and of all of the Polish people, who endured over five years of war and brutal Nazi occupation and its Cold War aftermath.  In reflecting on the dedication of this memorial to a desecrated Jewish cemetery, I was reminded of the words of Abraham Lincoln, spoken at the dedication of another cemetery, and addressed to those who had perished in another terrible war, the American Civil War.  In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln said:

      We cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract . . . It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who died here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . 

      What responsibility, then, does history impose on all of us, almost seven decades after the end of the Second World War, to ensure that its victims shall not have died in vain?  First, that we all, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or religion, rededicate and commit ourselves to our common humanity and to the basic human rights that were so viciously violated by the Nazis.  Not mere tolerance for the beliefs of others, as important as tolerance is, but a common dedication to the sanctity of life and to the basic freedoms to practice religious beliefs without oppression or persecution, to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to due process of law.  Sadly, there are far too many places in the world today where these fundamental human rights are not respected, and we must all courageously stand up in defense of them.

      Second, we must dedicate ourselves to the principle: “Lest they forget.”  We all have a moral duty to ensure that our children, our grandchildren, and all future generations understand what happened here and that they learn the lessons the history of this terrible tragedy teaches us.  As George Santayana famously wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  It amazes me that in certain countries today the history of the Second World War is not taught at all or is intentionally distorted to remove blame from the perpetrators of its worst atrocities.  Our guiding principle must be always to tell the truth and to defend academic freedom in the writing and teaching of history from those who would prefer propaganda.  But it is not only through history books that this story must be told and retold.  Our museums play a vital part in educating the public, young and old, about every aspect of World War II, including its grimmest realities.  I doubt that anyone could visit the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C. without being profoundly moved and learning how this appalling tragedy unfolded.  I serve on the board of directors of one of the two great World War II museums in the Unites States, where our motto is: “We inspire our youth by honoring our heroes.”

      Not only the classroom and the museums must ensure that what happened here will not be forgotten but the popular culture as well.  The story of the war and the Holocaust have been compellingly told in countless films and novels; one need think only of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, or Leon Uris’s Mila 18.

      And therefore it is through remembrance, always faithful to the truth, and an unswerving commitment to uphold fundamental human rights that we can best honor those who perished in this great tragedy and ensure that they shall not have died in vain.