During her high school years Karolina did something much different then anything I’ve ever done in high school: she volunteered to participated in a program that organized a local Jewish cemetery clean up. The volunteer program between Wrocław’s ASSA high school and Berlin’s Thomas-Mann-Oberschule put together a group of students willing to share their views, cultures, and experiences while conserving a part of history for future generations. Last month marked their 20th year in operation!
To celebrate the 20th anniversary a small presentation was put together on a Friday evening following a week long cemetery clean up. A few speeches were given in both Polish and German to honor all those that have kept the program going and to honor those that have paid the ultimate price through prosecution of war. Many photos were displayed showing students from both countries participating in the annual clean up with a TV running news reels taped through the years. Karolina also came across a few friend she hasn’t seen since graduating high school.
To get a better understanding of the importance of this program, we rode our bikes that weekend to visit the cemetery which is now also a museum. The cemetery was established in then a small city outside of Wrocław in 1856 when the first burial took place and it has served Wrocław’s Jewish community until 1943 when the cemetery itself became a fierce battleground during WWII.
I don’t know if that’s any way to describe a cemetery, but it’s quite beautiful inside. The architecture of tombstones varies a lot but most all are extremely interesting to look at. The overgrowing vegetation gives it an eerie atmosphere yet somehow I can’t imagine it any other way. Graves and tombstones covered in fern and ivy add to the mysterious feeling when walking along the isles. While reading the names and dates you can’t stop but think who was that person living here in Wrocław a hundred years ago. And there are quite a few important people buried at this cemetery. There’s a bulletin board with names and a place of burial for the few that have left their mark on Wrocław’s history.
I congratulate everyone that has participated in this program throughout its 20 years in operation!