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A Garden to celebrate personal responsibility

Interview with Piotr Jakubowski

Seizing the occasion of the inauguration of the Garden of the Righteous in Warsaw on 5 June 2014, we discussed the creation and importance of this project with Piotr Jakubowski, director of the House of History Meetings in Warsaw.

How have we come to the creation of the Garden of the Righteous of Warsaw?

The path that led us to the creation of the first Garden of the Righteous in Poland started some years ago. Inspiration came from Italy, the committee Gariwo- the forest of the Righteous, in the person of Annalia Guglielmi. After the first encounters, as long as we went on speaking, first we decided to create the Virtual Garden of the Righteous of Warsaw on the Wefor portal, then we committed ourselves to putting forward the idea of establishing a European Day in the Memory of the Righteous. This is why we organized a concert at Warsaw Royal Palace.
This mobilitation, which we took part actively in, was very successful. The European Parliamente approved the establishment of the “European Day of the Righteous”, which takes place every year on 6 March. During the celebrations of the first European Day, on 6 March 2013, in the rooms of the House of Meetings with History we set up the Committee for the creation of the Garden of the Righteous in Warsaw, chaired by Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Its members include prominent Polish figures, the representatives of very important institutions, who are persuaded about the absolute adequacy of such way of dealing with memory and promoting the figures who through their behaviour have opposed totalitarianism. After a little longer than one year we are about reaching the conclusion of this path and on 5 June we will inaugurate the Garden of Warsaw in which we will plant the first six trees dedicated to the Righteous.
It is important to stress that the realization of the Garden has been made possible also by the willingness of the chief and other authorities of the Wola district, who have conceded us a park in an area of Warsaw that was extremely significant as a remembrance  place, too.
Could you tell me something about the meaning of the localization of the Garden?
Wola is a part of the town which was particularly scarred during Warsaw’ tragic history above all during World War II: here there was part of the Ghetto, and very close to the Garden there was the dreadful Pawiak prison. Even just for this reason I think it is the best suitable area to create a remembrance place, without forgetting that not far from the Garden stands the Museum of History of the Polish Jews. Furthermore, all this explains why this part of Warsaw receives so many visitss also from the foreigners who are interested in a historical pathway through Memory places. For all these reasons the proposal made by the chief of the district of Wola – it was him to step in first, after reading about the project to create this Garden in the press – seemed to us as the ideal solution and we are very grateful for this opportunity.

Did you come up against problems while you were laying out the garden? Were there any protests against this project?

We are talking on the eve of the inaufuration, therefore I want to be very careful. Until now the idea of the Garden was generally welcome with favorable attitudes. During the organizational phase we were met with a largely positive response both from the institutions and the public offices. Until now we have not come across significant objections or criticism. There was some isolated dissenting voice, mostly due to historical reasons, but not challenging the merit of our choice.

How do you chose the figures that will be honoured?

We do so through an open discussion within the Committee and a discussion about the nominations, who can be submitted by anyone, besides the members of the Committee. After the discussion we make a decision through a vote. As far as the first six figures that we chose are concerned, we reached the unanimity, as it seemed to us that they mirrored very well the universal character that we want to give the Garden.

The inauguration of the Garden is to take place the day after the “Feast of Freedom”, the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Poland. How are these two events ideally linked to each other?

We united these dates on purpose. It has been 5 tears, so since the twentieth anniversary of the first half-free elections, the House for History Meetings has taken the charge to organize the celebrations of the “Freedom Feast” in Warsaw. This year recurs the 25th anniversary and we are in charge of organizing exhibitions, events, movie and video screenings, and therefore we have decided to add to the calendar of the celebrations also the inauguration of the Garden as the idea of the Garden of the Righteous enriches the celebrations with a particular dimension: the personal responsibility that was taken on by some men and women who defend human life and dignity under oppression. This seems to me as worth remembering while we celebrate, because 25 years ago that oppression was defeated in Poland. This coincidence seems to me as able to introduce a deeper meaning into our reflection on freedom.

The House for History Meetings carries out a great work among the younger generations about Memory and for the education to civic responsibility. How do you think you would “use” the Garden for this task?

The educational potential of the Garden has been the essential reason why we decided to carry out this project. Memory work starting from an individual perspective, that is to say having somebody’s biography as a reference point, is a part of the educational method of the House of History Meetings, thus we see the Garden as a permanent part of our work. Even before the Garden was created we had prepared some educational pathways about the Righteous that were added to the Virtual Garden of We For. Now we aim at further coordinating these initiatives by highlighting the figures of the Righteous more and more. Also, this educational dimension targeted to the younger people was underlined very clearly also by the members of the Committee.
I believe many kinds and occasions for a common work will arise around the Garden, which can take places here at the History Meeting House, at schools or under the Garden’s tree in the future.

curated by Annalia Guglielmi, Gariwo’s partner

23 June 2014

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