Since she was 15 years-old, when the UN designated the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Shalom Foundation each year organizes a commemorative event in Warsaw, opposite the Ghetto monument, to celebrate the memory of the victims of the Shoah. At the same time, Golda Tencer, the Director of the Foundation, actress and Director of the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw, invites parish priests across Poland to participate in the lighting of the memory candles. “Catholic faithful and members of other religious confessions, as well as non-believers, heartily welcomed this initiative”, Tencer said. The spokesperson for the Polish bishops, Fr Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, interviewed by SIR about this project, highlighted its importance as well as its rootedness within traditional commemorative events of the Shoah.
“I firmly believe that thanks to the friendship of the Catholic Church our appeal will reach out not only to inhabitants of large cities but also to those living in smaller towns and hamlets”, Tencer wrote in a letter to the President of Polish Bishops Mons. Stanislaw Gadecki, released by the Press office of the Bishops’ Conference.
“The purpose of the Light of Remembrance project – she said – is to raise awareness on the dangers connected to religious and ethnic intolerance and is addressed to the whole of Polish society, to all those who relate to fundamental human rights: the right to life and freedom, regardless of ethnicity and religious affiliation.”
Ms Tencer, how is the initiative of the Light of Remembrance being received?
We invite everyone to place a lit candle on windowsills on the evening of January 27. The project is embraced by citizens living in towns and cities across Poland, with great participation. Some time before January 27 priests called upon the faithful to take part in the lighting of the memorial candles and many people have responded to their request. A few years ago public television broadcast footage of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz holding the lit candle. That gesture has unquestionably increased the popularity of the initiative through which we intend to preserve the memory of the victims of human tragedy. Many people displaying their candles at home pass on this gesture to their children and grandchildren and by doing so the candles of memory become a tradition.
What other initiatives has your Foundation promoted?
For the past few years, during the Holocaust Remembrance days, a tram bearing the star of David travels across the city of Warsaw. Although the tram is empty, with no passengers, it halts at bus stops and opens its doors as if there were passengers that have to get off or take the tram. This is also a way to remember those who are no longer with us. On the occasion of the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising we planted a weeping willow on the central Grzybowski Square – which at the time of Nazi occupation of Poland was located within the Jewish Ghetto. The tree is dedicated to the memory of Jewish mothers who placed their children beyond the walls of the ghetto, on the ‘Aryan’ side, in order to save their lives, as well as to the memory of the Polish mothers who then raised and looked after those children. I
n addition to this, we organized a large exhibition of pictures of Jews in Poland before the war. An exhibition of hundreds of photos has already been on display in museums across over 70 Countries in Europe, USA and Latin America. In New York it even extended six times having been met with great interest with two reviews on the New York Times.
What is the atmosphere underlying these initiatives in Poland? What is the greatest problem today, 75 years after the Shoah?
I can’t think of any episode of hostility against us, at least not in Warsaw. However the fact that communicating and understanding each other is always so difficult is reason for concern. We should reach the point of speaking in unison so that our grandchildren may live in a Country without hatred. That’s why we need to speak and engage in dialogue. I try to make sure that we are sitting around the same table. The history of the Poles and that of the Jews have the same roots: culture, Polish literature and Jewish literature are mutually intertwined, in an exchange of images and traces. So today, in addition to the preservation of memory, I think our greatest challenge is to learn to communicate, to engage in mutual dialogue.