The Popiela Family Foundation called “Centrum” came into being in 2018 as an initiative of Dariusz Popiela, sportsman, Olympian, World and European medallist, and Polish representative for many years in slalom canoeing.
The need for a commemoration of the Jewish community of Krościenko nad Dunajcem became an inspiration for creating the wider project “People, not numbers”, a concept developed in conjunction with Joanna Kurczap and Elżbieta Magenheim. This project was made possible by Dr Karolina Panz’s discovery of lists of inhabitants of the region of Podhale prepared by Judenrate in 1942. The publication of their personal data enabled the commemoration of all 256 inhabitants on a monument designed by Grzegorz and Joanna Kurczap. The project in Krościenko was key for directing our later activities. It gave us the experience and knowledge to enable us to effectively function in other areas.
Goals of the project
To build a monument commemorating the local jewish community murdered during the holocaust, with the names of all victims written on it.
For completion of the project mentioned above, research in archives and consultations with experts are necessary. Our operations often involve cemetery areas and this is why all the works are undertaken according to Halacha law. Our actions are monitored by the Rabbinical Commission for Jewish Cemeteries in Poland, an organization with whom we cooperate closely. For us, respect for those buried is crucial, so we adopt forms of commemoration recommended by the Commission’s experts.
Mobilisation of local populations
Firstly we are reaching out to the local ‘custodians of memory’. In many places there are people who have been working for years to preserve memory. Most oftenthey are already engaged in efforts to commemorate their Jewish neighbours. With their participation, we create the project and build on their extensive knowledge of local history.
We endeavour to find the exact locations of tragic events. We gain archival information, witness accounts, trying to find traces of mass graves that were anonymous until now. We safeguard the area in a responsible way and in accordance with religious law, suitably commemorating the site. We connect our operations in the field with experts’ research (e.g. in cases of cemeteries created together with The Nissenbaum Family Foundation we aim to fence off the cemeteries). Alongside the Foundation “Forgotten” (Fundacja Zapomniane) we cooperate to appropriately commemorate mass graves. Representatives of the Rabbinic Commission oversee the entirety of the works.
We want the memory of the murdered to be observed not just by a ‘number’ or the general expression ‘Jews’. We popularise knowledge about local inhabitants, publish their biographies in social media, we reach out to the media and organise meetings in schools. We want the murdered to be remembered by subsequent generations. An important element of our project after the unveiling of a monument is the fitting of memorial panels. We try to arrange them according to the following scheme:
PANEL OF LIFE: showing the life of the community before occupation
PANEL OF EXTERMINATION: describes the day of displacement and the tragic end of the community, including the names of section commanders of SS Gestapo responsible for extermination in the particular area.
PANEL OF HORROR: in places where we are active, we commemorate anonymous graves. We try to describe in detail the circumstances of the murder and establish names of the victims.
PANEL OF KNOWLEDGE: main panel relating the history of the site e.g. cemetery on whose grounds the monument is located, and also giving information about the project, patrons and sponsors, actions undertaken, local custodians of memory who made possible about the commemoration of the murdered.
THE PANEL OF HOPE: tells about the patronage of a school(s) in the vicinity of the commemoration, which is important not only for local awareness of the site, but more so for the future. The annual youth trip to the Memorial Site of Bełżec Extermination Camp relates to this panel.
We are aware of the significance of our commemorations, as they are the victims’ symbolic first burial. The extermination and lack of remembrance of the Jews was the Nazi plan. This is why we care especially about commemorating amongst the local community in their homeland. We ensure that the ceremony, which often has a symbolic dimension, is conducted with respect and dignity. This is often the first time that we can pray for the victims in the presence of their descendants, rabbi and representatives of local faiths. We want all the names and surnames of the victims be read at every commemoration.
Throughout the duration of the project we strive to get the local community interested by placing in public spaces flags, posters, flyers, a light installation or a mural. We are open to suggestions, ideas, inspirations, because they prove that the project is created by good-hearted people. Thanks to your involvement, donations and help commemoration is possible. We thank you from our hearts for your generosity and trust.
CEO of Centrum Foundation