The grand opening of a temporary exhibition titled: They Used to be Our Neighbours – The Jews of Kutno took place on 1 March 2023 at the Kutno Cultural Centre. The exhibition was part of the project co-finance by the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. The exhibition lasted a month longer than originally planned i.e. until 31 May 2023. The opening of the exhibition was moderated by Bożena Gajewska, the project originator and coordinator. Ms Gajewska is a regional researcher, Dialogue Leader and member of the Society of Friends of the Kutno Region. The Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland had a pleasure to assume patronage over this project.
During the vernissage the following speakers took the floor: Robert Baryła, Marshal of the Lodz Voivodship, Mariusz Sikora, Chair of the Kutno City Council, Jacek Boczkaja, Deputy Mayor of the City, Dean of the Deanery of Kutno – Rev. Jerzy Swędrowski, PhD, Head of Kutno Municipality – Justyna Jasińska, Kutno Municipality Clerk – Jacek Saramonowicz, PhD, and Magdalena Majsterkiewicz, acting on behalf of Artur Hofman – Chair of the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland. The audience listened with great attention and emotion to the words of the family of Halina Rotstein, a resident of Kutno, who was murdered in Treblinka together with the hospital staff and sick children in the Warsaw Ghetto where she worked. Four of her children were rescued and smuggled to freedom from the Warsaw Ghetto.
The opening of the exhibition was honoured with the presence of many distinguished visitors who arrived in Kutno from other regions, such as e.g. Katarzyna Jakubowicz and Małgorzata Waszczuk, who represented the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, members of Halina Rotstein’s family who came from Warsaw, Marek Brand and his wife from TSKŻ Łódź. Other guests included: Rafał Grabski – Head of the Parliamentary Office of Paulina Matysiak, MP, Kutno City Counsellors, Members of the Kutno Council of National Remembrance, Iwona Kaca – Head of Branch Office of the Education Authority in Łódź with the Headquarters in Kutno, Michał Adamski, PhD – Head of the Department of Culture, Promotion and Urban Development, Kutno Municipal Office.
The project’s co-organiser was represented by Elżbieta Pajor, Senior Custodian at the Kutno Branch of the National Archive (acting on behalf of Tomasz Piekarski – Director of the National Archive in Płock. The project partners were also present: Magdalena Konczarek – Director of Stefan Żeromski Municipal and Regional Public Library in Kutno; Grzegorz Skrzynecki – Director of the Regional Museum in Kutno; Radosław Rojewski – Director of the Kutno Cultural Centre. The event was also attended by a number of principals and representatives of local primary and secondary schools.
A number of representatives of the project’s host were also present, including members of the management of the Society of Friends of the Kutno Region, Julianna Barbara Herman, Chair of the Society, and Elżbieta Żółtowska, Secretary of the Society.
The event was promoted by the local media in Kutno, which are very supportive of such community-based regional initiatives. Representatives of the media were also present at the grand opening of the exhibition.
The grand exhibition opening was visited by ca. 100 guests.
The guests listened to a song titled “Miasto, które znałem” [The Town I Used to Know], which was composed by one of its residents, Issachar Miron Michrovski. A recording of the song was made available to us by the composer’s family. The lyrics in Hebrew were written by Chaim Hefer and their English version was created by Lan O’Kun. The translation from English was provided free of charge by Ms Elżbieta Gontarek.
Krzysztof Ryzlak recited a poem entitled: “Kutno, moje rodzinne miasto” [Kutno. My Hometown] written by Mirel Erdberg-Szatan, an author based in Montreal, which was printed in The Kutno Book of Remembrance and translated from English by Elżbieta Gontarek.
Janusz Pawlak, PhD, gave an introductory lecture to the exhibition, vividly recounting the history of the Jewish community in Kutno and the fates of its most interesting and distinguished inhabitants.
During the opening of the exhibition, a dish called Hamantasches, baked by the author of the exhibition, was offered to guests as a refreshment.
From 1 March to 30 April, the exhibition was visited by more than 600 students of local schools in Kutno, whom I personally guided through the exhibition, discussing specific display elements and the history of the Kutno Jews.
On 16 May 2023, the exhibition hall was visited by a group of ca. 30 people who came from all around the world, including the offspring of the Kutno Jews. They visited big cities and small towns located in the central Poland, as part of the ADJCP – Memorial Tour “We are from here”.
By Bożena Gajewska
Co-ordinator of the Programme: “They Used to be Our Neighbours – The Jews of Kutno”
Member of the Society of Friends of the Kutno Region