Outside the Institute

A mezuzah has been affixed to the doorpost of the Institute. It is a small box, which contains pieces of parchments with specific verses from the Scripture affixed by religious Jews to the door of their homes. In Poland, and in Kielce, you can still find traces of mezuzahs at the entrances to apartments, townhouses and other buildings. As the inhabitants of these places usually did not leave them voluntarily, the remains of mezuzahs are kind of scars left after the tragedy of the Holocaust.

The following are the words that are placed inside a mezuzah. The last sentence is actually the source of this tradition:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21

The Mezuzah returned to the doorpost of the house at 7 Planty Street on April 23, 2015, during a ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Society, when the Institute for the Culture of Encounter and Dialogue began its activities. It was affixed by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, who said at the time that the mezuzah was to remind the visitors to the Institute of the everyday obligation to do good. It is worth noting that the rabbis require the mezuzah to be removed from homes where no Jews live, so as to prevent the desecration of the holy object. However, according to the sixteenth-century tradition, which was initiated by the outstanding teacher of the Law, Mosze Isserles (Remu) from Kraków, there is one exception – the mezuzah should not be removed when the former Jewish house is inhabited by friends who do not belong the Chosen People. Leaving this symbol on the doorpost is to be then an expression of trust and respect.

We are pleased that our Jewish friends trust us and every day the mezuzah reminds us of the purpose of our activities, which is building bridges where there were previously walls.

Large pictures of pre-war Jewish residents of Kielce placed in blind windows, lit at night, are probably the most conspicuous element of our exhibitions that is easily noticed by the Kielce residents and visitors to our city who pass the house in Planty Street. They are related to the exhibition entitled “I Can Still See Their Faces”, presented at the Institute just after it was opened, on April 24, 2015. The exhibition was created by the Shalom Foundation, which in 1994 urged people to send them photos of Polish Jews. In response, they received several thousand photographs. A collection of selected ones is currently traveling around the world.

After 21 years since the inauguration of the exhibition the exhibition was presented in Kielce. Pictures, including photographs of the Kielce Jews, were exhibited not only inside the building at 7/9 Planty Street but also on the external walls and the neighboring bridges over the Silnica River.

After the exhibition was closed three portraits remained in Kielce to be presented in the blind windows of the house in Planty Street. Who do they show?

Berek Goldszajd In the photo, he is wearing a traditional dress and he is staring at the camera with his wise eyes that had already seen a lot. Indeed, his life was long and had given him a lot of experience. He was born in 1856 in Chęciny. He received a good education, spoke fluent Russian, Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish. He was an officer and served in the 31st artillery brigade of the Russian army as a senior writer and translator. In 1885 he married Laja Kenigsztajn from Chęciny and together they moved to Łopuszno. They had six children. Two years later, Berek received permission to open a cheder in Łopuszno and to become a melamed; he taught 12 children. His family and friends called him "Berl Lejre", which meant "Berek the teacher." Since the Russian language was compulsory, Berek taught it in all cheders in Łopuszno. He also worked in the department for religious affairs of the local municipal office. He was famous for his excellent letters he wrote to the authorities. In 1901 the authorities gave permission to build a new synagogue in Łopuszno. Berek Goldszajd raised money and oversaw the construction of the temple. He died probably around 1935. He was buried in the cemetery in the Kielce quarter of Pakosz.
Hanka Goldszajd The daughter of Rivka and Jacob Goldszajd and the granddaughter of Berek Goldszajd. She was born in 1925 in Kielce. She lived with her family first at 22 Leonarda Street, then at 3 Leonarda Square and just before the war at 26 Focha Street. Unfortunately, she wasn’t given the chance to live such a long life as her grandfather. After the outbreak of the war she remained in Kielce with her parents and grandmother. Shortly after the Germans entered Kielce, the whole family was thrown out of their apartment and moved from place to place, until finally they settled in a small house at 15 Nowy Świat Street, which belonged to their relatives. Until the liquidation of the ghetto, Hanka and her family occupied a room in the attic. In April 1940 she managed to make contact with her brother Aba, sister Sarah and her husband, who had fled to Russia. In her letters she described a difficult situation of her family, harsh living conditions and her longing. In August 1942, together with her family, Hanka was deported to Treblinka and murdered by the Nazis.  

In 2006, when the 60th anniversary of the Pogrom was celebrated, the decision was made to organize the main celebrations of the 9th National Day of Judaism in Kielce. The celebrations took place on 17 January and it was the first time when such an event had been organized in a city with no organized Jewish community. The co-organizers of the celebration included the Bishop of Kielce, Kazimierz Ryczan, and the Jan Karski Society. The day after the main celebrations, on 18 January, a commemorative plaque with the words of the prayer of John Paul II, which he put in the Wailing Wall during his visit to Jerusalem, was placed on the wall of the building at 7 Planty Street. The prayer went:

God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. Pope John Paul II

The ceremony in front of the building in Planty Street was also attended by Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, who soon afterwards said:

Remembering the words of John Paul II and putting them on this commemorative plaque is a good path to take. It is a sign that the seed of thoughts of the Pope - here in Kielce - fell on fertile soil. Now the residents of Kielce can walk with heads held high, because the city shows everyone in Poland how to deal with difficult problems of history. You have to say clearly - those who live in this city do not assume any responsibility for what happened here. (...) Kielce is the first city in Poland, since we were allowed to speak the truth, which has found a way out of lies and deceptions.Władysław Bartoszewski
The celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Kielce Pogrom began on 2 July. At noon, the mayor of Kielce, Wojciech Lubawski, and the president of the Jan Karski Society, Bogdan Białek, unveiled two commemorative plaques mounted on the building at 7 Planty Street. The first of them includes the words from the St. John Paul II's homily delivered on June 3, 1991 in Masłów near Kielce:

In July 1946 in Kielce many Jewish brothers were killed. We render their souls to God.

As mentioned during the unveiling of the plaques by Bogdan Białek, this short sentence of the Polish Pope provoked criticism from all sides: “One of the Kielce columnists wrote: ‘Why is the Pope saying this? How long do we, Kielce citizens, have to be reminded of this crime in 1946?’. This happened in 1991, 26 years ago. Until 1991, few people had talked about it. (...) On the other hand, a well-known Jewish writer said: “What the Pope said was not enough. He should have added this, and this and that ...”. This caused dissatisfaction on all sides. However, if we look closely at this one sentence we have to understand that at that time the Pope sent a very strong message. Why? Because the sentence focused on the victims of the Pogrom”, said Bogdan Białek. “The Pope did not judge the event and he did not get involved in any historical speculations. He directed our attention to the victims, to those who should have always been in the centre of our attention”, the president of the Society added.

The second commemorative plaque presented a message of Pope Francis of the letter of 1 March 2016 to Rabbi Abraham Skórka:

Regarding what you wrote me today about Kielce, I will always be on the side of forgiveness and reconciliation. Open wounds are no good and may lead to further infections. But when they heal, only scars remain that, over time, become an integral remnant in our history.Pope Francis

The Bishop of Kielce, Jan Piotrowski, referred to the words of Pope Francis: “My dear, watch your hands, look at your faces – are there any scars? I have such scars. They have healed. We forget about certain events but the scars remind us of something. Because scars are a sign of history”.

For over 40 years the Pogrom was a kind of taboo. The events of 1946 were mentioned only in private conversations and except for an anonymous grave in the Kielce district of Pakosz there was no other way the victims of the pogrom would be commemorated. It was only after the change of the regime, in 1990, that two commemorative plaques, one made of syenite and the other of Pińczów limestone, were placed on the building in Planty Street. The shape of the two plaques is reminiscent of Jewish gravestones, the top of each bears the Star of David. The first plaque was founded upon the initiative of Lech Walesa, the then chairman of Solidarity, and financed by the Nissenbaum Family Foundation. “In the pouring rain, as if the sky wanted to join in the funeral ceremony, the people gathered in front of the building at 7 Planty Street waiting for the unveiling of a plaque”, wrote the local daily paper ‘Słowo Ludu” on July 5, 1990, the day after the celebrations of the 44th anniversary of the Pogrom. The letter from Lech Walesa was read out by his spokesman, Jarosław Kurski. Speeches were delivered by Zygmun Nissenbaum, founder and president of the Nissenbaum Family Foundation and Arkadiusz Płoski, the then mayor of the city. In the afternoon, at the Zielińscy Palace, a concert of Jewish music was organized. Unfortunately, unpleasant incident disrupted the ceremony: the previous evening someone had desecrated the gravestone of the victims in the cemetery, splashing it with oil paint.

The second plaque was a private initiative and was placed symmetrically on the other side of the building.

The third, cast iron plaque, is arranged on a former fence around the premises at 7/9Planty Street. It bears the following inscription: "In memory of the victims of the Kielce Pogrom on its 50th anniversary. Residents of Kielce ". The plaque was replaced by the city authorities in 2017 prompted by the Jan Karski Society - the earlier, original plaque of 1996 included ambiguous words of ‘the Jewish Pogrom:” instead of ‘the Kielce Pogrom’. The original plaque was laid in this place at a ceremony connected with the 50th anniversary of the pogrom in 1996. The celebration was scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 7, and it was attended by, among others, by Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, general secretary of the Polish Episcopate. "We cannot wriggle out of shameful heritage: in the middle of a sunny day a crime was committed and we have inherited it with the history of the city. Regardless of who killed, whether it was a worker of the ‘Ludwików’ Steelworks, a hysterical woman, a militiaman or a soldier", reported ‘Słowo Ludu’ daily paper.

Walking along the bank of the Silnica River, you will reach the main promenade of the city, the Sienkiewicza Street. There, in the heart of Kielce, on a bridge, the Karski Bench is situated. The monument, created by Karol Badyna, shows the figure of Jan Karski, the patron of the Society. Made entirely of bronze, the sculpture shows Karski sitting on a bench, looking thoughtfully at a chessboard. The location of the monument is not accidental and it has a deep symbolic dimension. A few dozen meters away, at 7 Planty Street, the main events of the Kielce Pogrom took place. Also the chessboard is not an accidental element - chess was a favorite pastime of Professor Karski. He collapsed and died while playing chess. The arrangement of the chess pieces on the board is the so-called Karski game. Pieces are placed in such a way that irrespective of any move of black pieces Karski would win using his white pieces. Symbolically, it means that our good small deeds can change the world for the better.

The ceremonial unveiling of the monument, founded by the Jan Karski Society, took place in Kielce, on April 23, 2005. This monument is the second in a series of monumental sculptures dedicated to the memory of Jan Karski. “Karski Benches”, each of which is different, were created after the year 2000 in Washington, New York, Lodz, Tel-Aviv, Warsaw and Krakow.

About 250 meters from the Institute, in IX Wieków Kielc Street, near the Silnica River, there is a "Menorah" monument. The sculpture commemorates the Kielce Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. It was unveiled in 2007, during the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the Kielce ghetto. It was founded by Bogdan Bialek, president of the Jan Karski Society in Kielce, Andrzej Białek, Stanislaw Białek and Marek Maciągowski. The ‘Menorah’ was created by Marek Cecuła, a son of a Kielce ghetto Jew and a survivor of the Pogrom, who spent most of his life in Israel and the USA before moving back to Kielce. Next to the Menorah there is a plaque commemorating the victims of the ghetto with inscriptions in Polish, Yiddish and English as well as a board with information about the Kielce ghetto. At the bottom, there is a small glass plate containing a card with Shema Israel prayer in Hebrew.

The ceremony of the unveiling of the Menorah monument was attended by the representatives of the Polish government and the office of President of the Republic of Poland, local, regional and city authorities and many residents of Kielce. There were also Yossef Levy, policy counselor and vice-ambassador of Israel in Warsaw, and Michel Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland. The guests were greeted by Bogdan Białek, president of the Jan Karski Society in Kielce, who said: ‘65 years ago every third inhabitant of Kielce was murdered. 65 years ago the Nazis murdered more than 20 thousand people who they did not treat as human beings. 200 meters from here there is the building of the former hospital, whose patients were killed with poison. 400 meters away, on the bank of the Silnica River, children from an orphanage were murdered - five with one shot. This monument is not needed to those who passed away but it is needed to us so as we keep remembering. It will not let the memory die’, said Białek during the ceremony.

Opposite the building at 7 Planty Street, across the Silnica River, there is a square named after Irena Sendler – the head of the children’s section of Żegota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews, recognized by the State of Israel as Righteous Among the Nations. During the war Sendler saved approximately 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust. Commemorating the person who had the courage to risk her life for others, regardless of their religion or nationality, near the scene of the crime in 1946, is extremely significant. The area is teeming with life - there is a vast playground, however, the square is neglected and currently preparations are ongoing for its revitalization.

At the intersection of Planty and Piotrowska Streets there is a monument called "White Wash II" by the American artist, Jack Hall, dedicated to the victims of the Pogrom. It is a two-meter-high wall in the shape of the number 7 (a reference to the number of the building at Planty Street as well as its shape) built of concrete blocks of which 42 (symbolizing the number of victims) are covered with lead plates. The rest of the blocks, which are whitewashed, is to symbolize preserving the memory of the tragic event. The monument was financed from the funds of the government of the United States Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad. The monument was to be modern, departing from the classical form of a monument commemorating a tragic event. It had to become a part of the life of the city. However, incomprehensible to many residents of Kielce, it did not assume the functions of a memorial site. During its unveiling on July 4, 2006, three oak trees - "Trees of Peace" – were planted in a neighboring green space.

Moving down Piotrkowska Street, which formed the southern border of the Kielce Big Ghetto, we reach Moses Pelc Street. Dr. Moses Pelc (1888-1941) was a Jewish doctor and social activist. In the pre-war Kielce, he cooperated closely with Mayor Stefan Artwiński. Pelc was also the director of the Jewish Hospital, which is now part of the municipal St. Alexander Hospital. In 1939, the occupation authorities appointed him president of the Judenrat. He quickly resigned from his duties taking the position of the director of the ghetto hospital. In 1941, he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered on September 8: an SS-man crushed Pelc’s larynx with his boot. The Jan Karski Society took the initiative to commemorate Moses Pelc in 2011, when the building situated in the green belt between the two lanes of Warszawska Street, which housed the Jewish ghetto hospital headed by Dr. Pelc, was demolished.

The Jewish cemetery in Kielce is located in the southern part of the city, in the district of Pakosz, near the exit road to Krakow. It was founded in 1868, soon after the first Jewish residents moved into the city. It served the local Jewish community for over 70 years. During the war it was devastated and desecrated and became a place of executions. 1981, a lapidary opposite the entrance to the cemetery was made out of destroyed tombstones.

The cemetery is currently under the management of the Jewish Community in Katowice, although the Jan Karski Society is still involved in maintaining it in due order. Visitors to the cemetery are asked to contact Marian Krężołek, telephone number 783 084 183 or 783 084 072. Visitors are asked to adhere to the cemetery rules in order to show proper respect and maintain the cemetery in an appropriate condition.

8On July 8, 1946 the victims of the Kielce pogrom were buried in the cemetery. On their grave there is a small obelisk with the inscription "Here lie the remains of 42 victims of the Kielce Pogrom of July 4, 1946. Honor to their memory". In 2005, during the 64th anniversary of the Pogrom, a new tomb, built at the initiative of the Jan Karski Society, was dedicated to the victims. The author of the reconstruction project was Marek Cecuła, who explained that creating a design of the tomb he wanted to give it a deeply symbolic form - a six-meter slab of black marble is cracked symbolizing suddenly interrupted life of the people buried underneath. In the middle of the tomb the artist placed the symbolic Star of David and the date "4 VII 1946". There are also the names of the victims and a brief description of the events that happened 64 years ago in Hebrew, English, Polish, and Yiddish.

Next to the tomb a 450-kilogram boulder was placed. It was transported from Israel to Kielce as a gift from the Kielce Landsmanschaft Jews. The boulder carries a symbolic message - it conveys the unfulfilled dream of the Jews killed 64 years ago to go to Palestine .

The second, equally moving, tomb is located in the corner of the cemetery. This is a tomb of 45 children murdered in 1943. On the tomb slab people leave candles and toys.

The children came from a labor camp, located between Jasna and Stolarska Streets. “ On May 23, 1943, we were gathered in a camp’s square (...) There were all adults and children there including my parents. Suddenly, someone grabbed me by the neck and dragged me into a small, old house. When struggling to free myself I started to shout and the man hit me hard in the face. I sensed that something very wrong was about to happen”, wrote Jan Zabłocki, one of the survivors, in his letter read out during the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the shooting of the Jewish children in Kielce. He was 13 years old. He survived because together with two colleagues he hid in an attic of a small house. The boys stayed there for four days and were helped to escape by some prisoners of the camp.