The past and the present

Maria Świątkowska
Spotkanie z dr Eleonorą Bergman poświęcone Synagodze Nowej (Wielkiej)
Obchody Międzynarodowego Dnia Pamięci o Ofiarach Holokaustu organizowane przez Stowarzyszenie
The past and the present
Spotkanie z Grzegorzem Gaudenem, autorem książki "Lwów - kres iluzji". Prowadzenie: Zbigniew Pakuła
Spotkanie z Lotharem Quinkensteinem. Prowadzenie: Daniel Tomczak
Spotkanie z prof.
Spotkanie z Krystyną Piotrowską i Michałem Sobelmanem. Prowadzenie Zbigniew Pakuła
Oprowadzanie po dzielnicy żydowskiej w Poznaniu
Akcja plakatowa z okazji 80. rocznicy deportazji poznańskich Żydów
Wystawa w Domu Spotkań: W zaułku Salomona. Poznańscy Żydzi
Baner na Domu Spotkań przy ulicy Żydowskiej 15a
W Chełmnie nad Nerem ze studentami z Essen
Warsztaty dla dzieci organizowane przez Stowarzyszenie
The past and the present
Spotkanie z Marianem Marzyńskim
Czasopismo Miasteczko Poznań w bibliotece Instytutu Polskiego w Tel Awiwie
The past and the present
"Resztki. Poddasze poznańskiej synagogi" - wystawa fotografii S. T. Lisieckiego

Miasteczko Poznań Association was founded in 2009. Its main goals are to uncover and bring up a memory of the Jewish past of city and region as well as to popularise contemporary culture that is inspired by Jewish heritage.

After the fall of the Communism in 1989 a slow process of reclaiming the memory and uncovering Jewish heritage has started in Poland and other countries of Central Europe. In the old Jewish neighbourhoods, dead and forgotten spaces, a movement was born which aimed at restoring what was left over by those who lived there until World War II broke out.

After the war was over, Jewish life did not come back to the streets of Poznań. The Nazis eviscerated what was formerly 3-4 thousand people strong community, and probably only 100 to 200 of its members survived the war. In 1945, Provincial Jewish Committee was established in Poznań, which served as a contact point for people looking for their loved ones as well as for repatriates coming from the territories of Russia; it operated for around two years. Most of the Jews who stayed in Poznań left the city in 1956 and 1968. Many of them wanted to build their future lives in Poland. However, they were driven out of the country by the pogrom in Kielce and a wave of anti-Semitic provocations reaching their apex in 1968. In the following years, these occurrences were a taboo and only after 1990 the process of placing Jews back in the history of Poznań and Poland, often uncompromising, was initiated. It is not an easy path, still obscured by anti-Semitism, retrogression and shortsighted politics.

The founding of Miasteczko Poznań Association in 2009 became part of the movement taking place in other Polish cities for at least 15 years. Its first initiative was to take over a journal about the history of Jews in Poznań and Wielkopolska that was in circulation since 2003. From the very beginning, the founders were aware of high-mindedness that was part of hope to reanimate Jewish life in "the city with no Jews". There were not enough people or spaces to play a more significant role in uncovering Jewish past of the city. However, it doesn't mean there were none. There was what was left of the synagogue on Stawna Street that Nazis remodelled into a swimming pool. In the building where the Jewish community had its seat, a chapter of Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland started its operation. On Żydowska Street stood a building where the S. B. Latz Shelter for the Elderly and Infirm Jews used to be. There were, and still are, more signs of this former presence. History of tenement houses at Szewska, Żydowska, Wroniecka, Woźna, Wodna, and Kramarska Streets is full of paragraphs about their Jewish neighbours and institutions.

What the Association had to face was not just a lack of memory. The question was how to responsibly take good care of "a heritage without an heir", especially in the cityscape that is increasingly dominated by commercialisation, reprivatisation, and Disneyfication – the products of transformation that started in Poland after 1989. The cityscape has become a battleground between the free market and the world as it was before the war. And that world could not be recreated. It was gone. Rafael Scharf[1], who is very keen on what is happening in Poznań, talks about "knocking on the past's door". "Although closed", he says, "we have an obligation and a privilege to knock on them". And it is what we do.

We knew that Jewish heritage is, quoting British scholar Jonathan Webber, "a monument to the memory of those who died in Europe after the Holocaust". The legacy that, we should add, resides in the shadows of extermination camp in Chełmno on Ner, just 2 hours away from Poznań. Webber's notion is deeply engraved in the Association's work. The other fundamental thought is a conviction that it is necessary not only to restore history; we should also talk about contemporary life inspired by Jewish culture.


The journal

Zbigniew Pakuła came up with the idea of the journal "Miasteczko Poznań" and became its publisher and editor-in-chief. In the first edition that came out in June 2003, Pakuła writes:

"It is often said about memory that it likes making fools out of us. It is true. It is so when we can't find our house keys or a phone bill. But when it comes down to the memory, it is us who play tricks on the memory. It is we who do not want to remember. We settle for what is a selective, polished, falsified version, running away from difficult questions, and even more difficult answers. Miasteczko Poznań is a gesture toward those who want to look into spaces filled with weeds of oblivion. And toward those who wish to call forth memories of people who lived in towns of Wielkopolska, neighbours to Poles who were Jewish, German or Czech. Evoke memories of people speaking different languages and praying in various temples.

Standing up to oblivion, we can uncover the past. So the more of our work, the more generous it gets. We want to reconstruct to show continuity and totality. Towards Europe, yes, but with our cherished localities."

The first publisher of the journal was Miriam Media Agency. When in 2009 Miasteczko Poznań Association was established, it took over publishing duties for next volumes. The first edition touched upon such topics as organisations focusing on helping the poor of the Jewish community in Poznań or "Kupiec warszawski", a play by Roman Brandstaetter, which had its premiere on October 27, 1941 in the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv. It also included a selection of poems by Łucja Pinczewska-Gliksman and two chapters from Noach Lasman's book "Solidna firma ze Stuttgartu" (Reliable company from Stuttgart) published in Israel and Germany in the 1990s. For the inaugural three volumes, the A4 format was adopted, but now they are closer to a B5.

This year marks 18 years since the first edition of the journal. One has to admire a long history as well as persistency of a grassroots operation that for a few years at its beginning had no funding at all. Only after seven years of self-funding, the Association was awarded first grants. The ongoing work and expansion of initial idea were made possible mostly thanks to subsidies from the Poznań City Hall and The Marshal Office of the Wielkopolska Region. The journal was sometimes financed by The Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation and Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.

The journal publishes literature (both prose and poetry), and that includes translations from Yiddish and Hebrew. Historical content is an essential part of every issue, such as memoirs, articles aimed at popularisation, biographies of people with ties to Poznań and Wielkopolska. Many of those deal with Polish-German borderland, and with Jews of two homelands: Poland and Germany[2]. One could find in the magazine articles concerning literature as well as interviews with scholars, authors, and artists – among others with Amos Oz, Savyon Liebrecht, Prof. Katarzyna Kuczyńska-Koschany, Prof. Dariusz Konrad Sikorski, and Prof. Izolda Kiec. The journal pays close attention to visual arts, that is why it publishes prints of pieces by many contemporary artists, but it also discusses their exhibitions presented in Poznań and Poland, or Jüdisches Museum in Berlin, Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, and in Tel Aviv. Among artists whose pieces graced pages of the journal were Dani Karavan, Boris Lurie, Galia Gavish, Michel Kichka, Adi Nes, Rafael Chwoles, Ryszard Bilan, Halina Jaworski, Teresa Żarnower, Mirosław Bałka, and Krystyna Piotrowska.

"Miasteczko Poznań" also touches on matters of theatre, music, festivals centred on Jewish culture and initiatives by local communities that aim at memorialising Jews that lived in their towns until World War II. Given the undertakings mentioned above the journal becomes a local chronicle of sorts, recording events happening in Poznań and Wielkopolska.

"Miasteczko Poznań" is available in EMPIK stores and good bookstores. Furthermore, Polish, as well as foreign libraries, subscribe to the journal. Among them are The New York Public Library (United States of America), The British Library (United Kingdom), Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Germany), Harvard, HCL Widener Library (United States of America), Green Library, Stanford University (United States of America), Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Germany), Yad Vashem (Israel), Jüdisches Museum (Berlin). Libraries of universities in Poland, research institutions, associations, and foundations are subscribers as well.

In this short description of the journal, the most important ideals of the editorial board become apparent, and that is building a bridge between past and present, as well as between local and transborder. The board values the history of a place it is located in and so is motivated to reveal deep connections between local history and contemporary Jewish world.


Dom Spotkań

In 2017 thanks to "Places for culture" program, the Association moved into a small building at 15 Żydowska Street[3]. The ground floor is a seat of the editorial board of the journal, and exhibitions and other events take place in the spaces on the first floor. The building was part of the complex build in 1909 for the Salomon B. Latz Shelter for the Elderly and Infirm Jews – more on the history of the foundation on pages 00-00. The building was remodelled, with significant changes to its facade so that it would match the architectural plans for the Shelter. Before that it was part of a different complex – up until 1909 there stood three synagogues built in 17th and 18th centuries called Alte Betschule, Neue Betschule and Nehemias Betschule. The temples were torn down due to their poor technical condition, and the space left was given to the Shelter for construction.

In its hub, the Association set up not only editorial office but also a reading room with books on topics regarding Jews. It is open to everyone but most often used by students and teachers working on projects about the history of Poznań. In the hub, several exhibitions were organised touching on themes such as Rabbi Akiva Eger as a leader of communities in Leszno, Mirosławiec and Poznań. Others presented Jews from Wągrowiec, Jewish families that lived in Poznań until 1939, and Jewish cemeteries. The last one was titled "Domy Wieczności" (Houses of Eternity). Talks and meetings were arranged with prominent scholars, writers, and artists. Among guests of Dom Spotkań were Krystyna Piotrowska and Michał Sobelman at the event marking the anniversary of March 1968. Some of the writers that accepted invitations of the Association are Grzegorz Gauden (the author of a book on the pogrom in Lviv), Dr Alina Molisak (author of a book on Jewish Warsaw and Jewish Berlin), and Dr Joanna Ostrowska who wrote a book on a forced sex work during World War II. Other prominent figures that visited Dom Spotkań include Prof. Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, a USA-based director Marian Marzyński, Israeli film creator Oren Rosenfeld, Krzysztof Czyżewski of Fundacja Pogranicze, and Lothar Quinkenstein from Berlin, who translated Olga Tokarczuk's "The Books of Jacob".

This year, 4th Festival of Jewish Film established by the Association will take place. It showcases feature films, documentaries, and visual art by artists from all around the world. While deciding on the agenda for the Festival, the Association works with, among others, department of culture of Israel Embassy in Warsaw and with the movie authors themselves. Screenings take place in different spots around the city – in Dom Tramwajarza (culture hub on the west side of the town), the seat of Łazęga Poznańska Association and the Pawilon. Marek S. Bochniarz came up with the idea and now serves as head of programming for the Festival – more on the program on pages 00-00. The screenings are highly popular among residents of Poznań.



The Association keeps the memory of the Holocaust victims alive by meeting with citizens of Poznań to talk and remember their neighbours murdered during World War II. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day candles are lit in front of the former Poznań synagogue. On every anniversary of The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Association takes part in the nationwide campaign "Łączy nas pamięć" (Joined by the memory) that has daffodil as its symbol, and that Museum of History of Polish Jews POLIN initiated. On December 13, transports of Jews expelled in 1939 from Poznań to occupied Poland are put front and centre. As a result of this displacement action, executed by Germans, Poznań became "cleansed of Jews".

Currently, we can enjoy many initiatives being introduced in Poznań and Wielkopolska by other associations, foundations and cultural institutions – more on two associations from Konin and Wągrowiec on pages 00-00. It is a good sign. For years now, the Miasteczko Poznań Association is supported by grants from the Poznań City Hall and The Marshal Office of the Wielkopolska Region. It allows for the continued publishing operation and a full calendar of cultural events in Dom Spotkań. Remembering the past, the Association will deal with contemporary topics and matters, just as in its journal.


[1] Rafael Scharf (b. June 14, 1914, in Kraków) finished law school at Jagiellonian University in 1936. After getting his degree, he worked as a journalist. In 1938 he moved to England where he studied at the London School of Economics. During World War II he joined the British Army – first, he served in the infantry, later in the British secret service. After the war, he worked for the unit preparing trials of war criminals. He was a co-founder of "The Jewish Quarterly" and one of the founding group of the Oxford Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies.

[2] Dr Małgorzata Grzywacz from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, the author of many texts published in the journal; made an outstanding contribution to popularising this subject.

[3] The "Places for Culture" program is an initiative of the Poznań City Hall, offering spaces at preferential prices for associations and foundations conducting cultural activities for the benefit of the residents of Poznań.

© Copyright 2014