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Cecylja Klaften Educated Polish Girls

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

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An unsung hero of Jewish girls education in inter-war Poland, Dr. Cecylja Klaften came to New York City in 1938 as part of a fundraising effort held at Mecca Temple on West 55th Street, sponsored by aid organization United Galician Jews of America.

Her school system was known in the 1920’s as the Jewish Professional School of the Society of Workshops for Jewish Girls. Klaften founded 18 vocational trade schools for both genders in Galicia as an effort to educate against the endemic poverty and limited opportunities there immediately following World War I. Herself widowed during the war, Klaften devoted her own financial resources, as well as her life, to the over 4,000 youth who graduated her school system annually where they studied trades and artisanal handcrafts such as embroidery and weaving. Fluent in Polish, French, German and Hebrew, Klaften then acquired English.

She was officially welcomed to New York by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and her work was lauded by President Franklin Roosevelt. While in New York, Dr. Klaften observed local trade schools to learn their methods. Before working in the education field, Klaften had been assistant professor of biology at Lwow University. At the time of this photograph, over 80,000 students had completed training in her schools, including acclaimed fabric designer Pola Stout who created designs for Academy Award winning costume creator Edith Head, among others.

Not long after this photograph was taken, perhaps compelled by her abiding sense of service to her community, Klaften returned to her home and to World War II , occupation by the Soviets in 1939 and then by the Nazis from 1941-1944. Witnesses recorded the murder of the beloved educator who was shot by Nazis on the streets of Lwow in 1942.

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