The Resurrection of Chmielnik

Synagogue and Restaurant Help Put Small Polish Town Back on the Map

Silent Witness: Originally built in the 1630s but reconstructed in later centuries, Chmielnik’s synagogue stood just a few blocks north of the town’s market square
Ruth Ellen Gruber
Silent Witness: Originally built in the 1630s but reconstructed in later centuries, Chmielnik’s synagogue stood just a few blocks north of the town’s market square

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Published August 20, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

About 15 years ago, when he was in his mid-20s, Piotr Krawczyk had a revelation that changed his life; in many respects it also ended up changing the life of Chmielnik, the sleepy little town in South Central Poland where he lives.

“I found a book on the history of Chmielnik, and I read it,” Krawczyk, a round-faced man who exudes enthusiasm, told me when I visited Chmielnik, which is about 100 miles southeast of Warsaw. “But I found scarcely any information about Jews, and I remembered that my grandparents told me that before the war, there were a lot of Jews here.”

So, he added, “I started going to the archives, finding documents, and I found a lot. No Jews live in Chmielnik now, but before World War II they were about 80% of the population. The history of the Jews here is the history of the town.”

This recognition sent Krawczyk on a journey to put Jewish history, Jewish memory and Jewish heritage back both on Chmielnik’s map and in the town’s self-awareness.

Working closely with Mayor Jarosław Zatorski and other town officials, Krawczyk has been a driving force behind a remarkable series of initiatives encompassing education, commemoration, outreach and tourism.

He was instrumental in founding Encounters With Jewish Culture, a Jewish culture festival held annually since 2003. He wrote the first book devoted to Chmielnik’s Jewish history, published in 2006, and organizes programs for school children; he spearheaded contacts with Holocaust survivors from Chmielnik and with descendants of local Jews, and he worked to preserve the remnants of Chmielnik’s devastated Jewish cemeteries and to erect a Holocaust memorial.

All this has changed the way many people think about their town and local identity. Even a decade ago, Krawczyk says, some people were wary about reopening a chapter many had believed was closed. “The first time we had the festival, some people were saying, ‘What will happen if Jews return and take their houses back?’” he told me on one of my earlier visits to Chmielnik. “Now, people ask when the next festival is going to take place. They can’t wait.”

This summer, the most ambitious project to date is coming to fruition: the completion of the restoration of Chmielnik’s long-derelict synagogue and the opening there of the Świętokrzyski Shtetl Education and Museum Center dedicated to Jews and Jewish history in Chmielnik and elsewhere in surrounding Świętokrzyski Voivodeship, or Province. Funding for the $3 million complex, which will include a theater and a research center, as well as a separate Holocaust memorial, came from the European Union and from city, state and regional authorities.

Similar to the much bigger and much more publicized Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw, “it will be a modern, interactive museum. We want to show what Jewish life was in this region before the war,” Krawczyk told me.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.