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University of Wrocław’s Centre for Studies on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska

History, scientific activity, educational activities

The opening ceremony of the Centre

The long-term cooperation between Ostrów Wielkopolski authorities and the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies at the University of Wrocław, initially on an informal level, was crowned with the creation of the Centre for Studies on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska. A unique scientific institution was established which goes beyond common university framework since its establishment involves three different entities: academic, local government and societal, followed by the Declaration of Intent signed by the interested parties on 18th June 2012. The first subsidiary research unit of the University of Wrocław in Wielkopolska came officially into existence on 14th May 2013 launched by His Magnificence Rector of the University of Wrocław Prof. PhD habilitatus Marek Bojarski and Jarosław Urbaniak, President of Ostrów Wielkopolski. This significant event held in the Ostrów synagogue, where the Centre acquired its office under the concluded agreements, was attended by representatives of the highest authorities of the city of Ostrów, the County, the University, different small localities in Southern Wielkopolska and scientific and cultural institutions in Poland (Jewish Historical Institute Association and Museum of the History of Polish Jews).
The 3/2013 ordinance extract of the Rector of the University of Wrocław for the establishment of the Centre was read out at the ceremony. Krzysztof Morta, PhD, from the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies was appointed director of the Centre and Mr Jarosław Biernaczyk, historian and regionalist, became secretary of the institution. The Centre’s Program Board was also set up as an advisory and consultative body and included Prof. Gościwit Malinowski, Director of the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies, Mrs Marlena Maląg Deputy Mayor of the city Ostrów Wielkopolski, Krzysztof Morta, PhD, Director of the Centre for Studies on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska, Prof.  Marcin Wodziński, Head of the Centre of Jewish Culture and Languages and Mr Piotr Grabarz, Chairman of the Association of “Friends of the Synagogue in Ostrów”.

Declaration of Intent signing ceremony

18th June 2012

Opening ceremony

14th may 2013

Scientific activity of the Centre

Every year in November since 2013, the University of Wrosław Centre for Studies on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska has been organizing National Scientific Conferences on “The local Jewish community”, held in the Synagogue Forum, 21 Raszkowska St. in Ostrów Wielkopolski, at the Centre’s premises.
They are educational and scientific events as the conferences are attended not only by specialists but are also open to anyone interested in the presented subjects. The synagogue is usually visited by secondary school and university students and teachers from Ostrów and its environs. It is worth mentioning that each year the conference inauguration ceremony is honoured with the presence of distinguished guests, including Wrocław University officials, the local government authorities, as well as directors of museums and cultural institutions and schools in Ostrów and the surrounding towns and villages.
During the November scientific meetings about 20 papers and speeches are usually delivered. The scholars represent different academic centres and other institutions specializing in the history and culture of Jews in Poland. Within the 5 years of the Centre’s activity, many topics have been heard and discussed pertaining to the Jewish community, covering both specific questions, e.g. tombstone epitaphs of Jews from Ostrów, and general issues, including those concerning Jewish literature of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The International Bible Conferences, held in May or June since 2014, devoted to the interpretation and translation of the Bible have been among the most important scientific events in Ostrów Wielkopolski held at the Centre for Studies on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska. They are organized by Wrocław University Faculty of Ancient Near-East and Biblical Tradition of the Wrocław University Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies headed by Krzysztof Morta PhD. 
By hosting these conferences, Ostrów Wielkopolski brings together researchers from various centres overseas (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Norway, the United States, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania) and numerous leading research establishments in Poland. To date, over 120 speeches have been delivered.
These conferences also have an open nature hence, the participation of the public interested in biblical topics, students and pupils from local schools, university teachers, the clergy, workers of educational and cultural establishments and the media.

Apart from the regular conferences in November and May or June, the Centre organizes other occasional meetings and lectures, like for example the conference entitled “Secondary school closer to University”, held on 17th November 2017 in Rev. J. Kompałła and W. Lipski High School No.1 in Ostrów Wielkopolski. The conference was organized by the school management, Wrocław University and the Centre for Studies on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska.
The school, established in 1845 as the Royal Catholic Gymnasium, with its rich tradition and honoured legacy has been officially associated with Wrocław University since 17th January 2014. Under an agreement signed by His Magnificence Rector of the University Prof. Marek Bojarski, Krzysztof Morta, PhD, was appointed as the coordinator of this cooperation. Since then the school has continued to provide its premises for hosting conferences arranged by the Centre for Studies on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska. The school students have attended several times educational initiatives prepared by academics from the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies both in Ostrów and at Wrocław University. Many joint education and research programs have been implemented to guide the young people into the world of scholarly work.

Another important event organized by the Centre of Research on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska in cooperation with the Municipal Office of Ostrów Wielkopolski was a conference held on 6th May 2015. On this day there was also a ceremony of unveiling a commemorative plaque placed on the lapidarium wall at the 23rd January Square devoted to two outstanding representatives of the Jewish community in Ostrów: Israel Meir Freimann, the Rabbi of Ostrów and, between 1899 and 1919, patron of the street in Ostrów where the lapidarium is situated and his son Prof. Aron Freimann, graduate of the Royal Gymnasium in Ostrów, prominent historian, bibliographer and librarian. The ceremony was attended, inter alia, by Ruth Dresner and Miriam Klausner from New York (Prof. Freimanna’s granddaughter and great granddaughter) and Rachel Heuberger, PhD, from Frankfurt am Main, an outstanding expert in Prof. Freimann’s life and work, and his successor as the manager of Judaica and Hebraica resources of the University library in Frankfurt.

Educational activities of the Centre

Alongside its scientific activities, the Centre of Research on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska is involved in many educational schemes. It works with schools, Ostrów Cultural Centre and the Ostrów Scientific Society.
As part of the “MAZEL TOV FESTIVAL. The Jewish history, culture, tradition and heritage”, organized by Ostrów Cultural Centre, Magdalena Jóźwiak, PhD, and students of the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies conduct Hebrew language and scriptural workshops at the Synagogue Forum. The participants can find out a lot about the Jewish funerary art, principles of the Hebrew gravestone inscription, etc. It is interesting to note that besides providing theoretical knowledge, the meetings also allow to confront theoretical knowledge with outdoor activities at the nearby lapidarium.
The workshops enjoy enormous popularity among secondary school students, in Ostrów and beyond, who participate in this educational initiative with great interest and personal involvement.

Activation of students from Wrocław University in Ostrów Wielkopolski thanks to cooperation between the municipal authorities and the University

Since the Centre began its work, students from the Institute of Classical, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies at the University of Wrocław have been taking an active part in all educational and scientific initiatives by engaging in the organization and preparation of the events. For example, during the Centre opening ceremony in May 2013 undergraduates and PhD students prepared dishes inspired by the Bible for the guests.
Of another event of note, there must be mentioned an artistic presentation prepared under the guidance of Magdalena Jóźwiak, PhD, in which members of the “Biblicum” Student Research Society performed a few biblical scenes.

Cooperation between the Centre of Research on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolski at the University of Wrocław and other educational and cultural establishments

Apart from its didactic and scientific activity, the Centre of Research cooperates with various educational and cultural institutions in Southern Wielkopolska. On 6th March 2014 the Centre signed two cooperation agreements: with the municipality of Pleszew and Władysław Reymont Secondary School No2 in Ostrów Wielkopolski. 
On 20th November 2014 the Centre of Research on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska signed another cooperation agreement – this time with the T. P. Potworowski Regional Museum of Kępno. The cooperation involves the exchange of experiences, consultations with scientific staff, common initiatives and research projects, which concern mainly historical monuments and places connected with the old local Jewish community in Kępno.
Within the framework of cooperation with the Regional Museum of Kępno, the Director of the Centre of Research on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska at Wrocław University took part in a debate organized by the Museum about the synagogue in Kępno. The debate was held on 31st May 2015 at the T. P. Potworowski Regional Museum of Kępno. Although efforts have been made to restore the synagogue and adapt it to the needs of cultural activities since the eighties of the 20th century, the Classicist-style building of the synagogue in Kępno is still in ruin.
Under the nationwide ‘’Museum on wheels” program, carried out from 1st to 3rd June 2015 at the Kępno Old Market Square by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN, Magdalena Jóźwiak PhD ran a workshop of reading tombstone inscriptions at the T. P. Potworowski Regional Museum of Kępno.

In appreciation of the fruitful and substantive cooperation between the Centre and the Museum, on 14th June 2017 the Mayor of Kępno appointed Krzysztof Morta, PhD, to the Museum Supervisory Board.
On 6th April 2015 Krzysztof Morta, PhD, and Magdalena Jóźwiak, PhD, met with the director of the Regional Museum in Pleszew to reflect on the condition of the remaining matzevot from the former Jewish cemetery in this town. Work began aimed at cataloguing and describing the Jewish tombstones. All the rescued fragments of the matzevot were pre-cleaned and photographed.
The outcome of this work was a lecture entitled “Inscriptions and epitaphs on the matzevot from the Jewish cemetery” given at the Museum in Pleszew on 6th May 2015 by Mr. Morta, PhD, as part of the “Museum on wheels” project of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Another important event in the Centre’s operations in Southern Wielkopolska was the signing of a cooperation agreement between the university establishment and Raszków municipal commune on 24th February 2016.


The uniqueness of the Centre of Research on the History and Culture of Jews from Southern Wielkopolska lies in the fact that it was established under a contract between three different parties: academic – Wrocław University, municipal – the city of Ostrów Wielkopolski and societal – “Friends of Ostrów Synagogue” Association.
It is the first subsidiary research establishment of Wrocław University located in Wielkopolska, thus, in addition to its statutory areas of responsibility, it also performs just as important task of contributing to the efforts of promoting the University in this part of Poland. The Centre’s workers have the added responsibility of representing their Alma Mater, including contacts with other universities and other educational and scientific institutions in the region to provide different types of content-related assistance pertaining the Centre’s field of specialization. This is reflected in consultations of the Centre’s scientific community provided to private people and institutions and in expert participation in various initiatives, e.g. in educational programs on local television.
The Centre’s activity is not restricted only to the local area, as its employees regularly organize national conferences devoted to Jewish communities of the former Republic of Poland, international biblical conferences, workshops for secondary school students concerning different nationalities, which over the centuries lived side by side in peace, their languages, history, religion and culture.
Yet another key element of the Centre’s operations are the many meetings with descendants of the Jewish community during which the guests have an opportunity to learn more about their ancestors, historic memorabilia and places connected with the Jewish community which once lived in Ostrów. Research conducted by the Centre’s scientists document peaceful coexistence of different national and religious communities (Poles, Jews and Germans), where despite some diverging interests, certain personal animosities, and the foreign administrator’s policy (the issue of naturalization of Jews) the Ostrów town and region were usually characterized by tolerance and respect for the law between the various national groups and religious communities.
Another tangible effect of the Centre’s scholarly work is its publishing activity run with the support of the Ostrów Cultural Centre.

The team


DIRECTOR: dr Krzysztof Morta
SECRETARY: Jarosław Biernaczyk

1. prof. Gościwit Malinowski, dyrektor Instytutu Studiów Klasycznych Śródziemnomorskich i Orientalnych;
2. p. Ewa Matecka, zastępca Prezydenta Miasta Ostrowa Wielkopolskiego;
3. dr Krzysztof Morta, Instytut Studiów Klasycznych, Śródziemnomorskich i Orientalnych;
4. prof. Marcin Wodziński, kierownik Studium Kultury i Języków Żydowskich;
5. p. Piotr Grabarz, prezes Stowarzyszenia „Przyjaciele Ostrowskiej Synagogi”;
6. p. Marlena Maląg.

dr Magdalena Jóźwiak
mgr Łukasz Krzyszczuk

Halina Marcinkowska (Redaktor Naczelna strony „Forum Żydów Polskich”, członek Rady Głównej Związku Gmin Wyznaniowych Żydowskich w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, Prezes Towarzystwa Opieki nad Zabytkami, Oddział w Kaliszu)