On the way to the Bialowieza forest lies the small village of Orla: a tiny place with an impressive synagogue that rules over the flat landscape. For many years forgotten and misused, in the past decade it gained a new keeper who, in cooperation with Jewish organizations in Poland, local authorities, and descendants of Orla’s Jews, has been bringing back the building to its former glory. Forum for Dialogue is proud and honored to support these efforts.
Marek Chmielewski, who is a member of the Leaders of Dialogue network and the Mayor of Orla, was recently nominated for the POLIN Award presented by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews for his outstanding dedication to the preservation of Jewish heritage in Poland. In a short film, Marek shares his motivations for the work he does in Orla.
Aware of the complexities involved in having a non-Jew in charge of the synagogue, Marek has spent countless hours reaching out to local residents, experts, representatives of Jewish organizations in Poland, and descendants of Orla’s Jews to make sure he is working in a spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding. Himself a member of a religious and linguistic minority in Poland, he is determined to ensure that his Jewish neighbors are properly remembered. In the past years, he has created a monument commemorating Orla’s Jews, published an album featuring photographs of the pre-war community, collected oral histories from elderly residents, and connected with one of the last living Jews of Orla. This fall, thanks to a grant awarded by Forum for Dialogue to members of our Leaders of Dialogue network, he organized a conference aptly entitled “What’s to happen with the Orla synagogue?” attended by experts from all over Poland, as well as local residents and guests.
Though he admits that he does not seem like the obvious choice for a keeper of memory, he relishes in the trust he has been granted by Jews and non-Jews alike, to work to preserve and educate about Jewish Orla. As he notes himself, rather than consistent, he wants to be effective. And he is.
President and CEO Forum For Dialogue
My visit to Orla 2011 – with Marek Chmielewski and Wojciech Kononczuk
Marek Chmielewski, Dariusz Horodecki & Wojciech Kononczuk
It is ironic that most of us are unaware of our origins in Orla, Marek Chmielewski has made a great effort on our behalf to assure today’s current residents of Orla does. Marek, the mayor of Orla, has implemented programs in the local school and annual events about its forgotten past, much of which are at his own cost. The following video commemorates the 72nd anniversary of the liquidation of Orla of its Jews that occurred on November 4, 1942. All of the guests are residents of the village. Some of the names on the wall commemorating those that perished are our direct relatives.
We, here in Orla, try to honor the memory of our Jewish neighbors. I personally funded the monument, see below. Every year we organize Remembrance Days together with the March of Remembrance – the uploaded film is a report from similar celebrations. I am sending you links to other events that I organize in Orla