When I visited Włocławek last February, I was disheartened by the crumbling historic buildings that were formerly owned by pre-World War II Jewish residents. Still, I met a few people actively involved in documenting and preserving the memory of the city’s Jewish population. They include: Mirosława Stojak, who writes about Włocławek’s Jews and manages the website zydzi.wloclawek.pl, Tomasz Wąsik, the historian and director of the Museum of History in Włocławek, and Tomasz Kawski, a historian and professor at Kazimierz the Great University in Bydgoszcz, and author of several books on the history of Polish Jews.
And now high school students in Włocławek have been collecting photographs, writing historical accounts, and doing interviews with people who remember the events of World War II. Their work can be seen on their Facebook page. Here are just a few of the photos they have posted. The synagogue on Królowiecka Street:
The synagogue on Zabia Street:
And here the synagogue in flames:
The students write on their Facebook page:
“On September 24, 1939, Germans ordered Jews they selected to bring a barrel full of tar to the synagogue on Żabia Street. Then they forced them to ignite the fire.
In this way, one of the prettiest synagogues in Poland ceased to exist. The synagogue on Królowiecka Street met the same fate.”
“24 września 1939 roku Niemcy nakazali wyznaczonym przez siebie Żydom wprowadzenie do Synagogi na ulicy Żabiej beczek wypełnionych smołą. Następnie zmusili ich do wzniecenia pożaru.
“Tym samym przestała istnieć jedna z najpiękniejszych Synagog w Polsce.
Podobny los spotkał Synagogę przy ulicy Królewieckiej.”
So while horrible truths are communicated, this project and the Facebook page that documents it stand out to me as a marker of hope. A new generation of Włocławek residents are learning about this difficult history, and returning the story of what happened to the city’s Jews to the center of the narrative about their hometown.