Galicia Jewish Museum
As a museum dedicated to the memory of the Jewish people in Galicia, the Galicia Jewish Museum has always been unwavering in its commitment to supporting and championing minorities in Poland, and specifically in the Galicia region. Just over a month ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine and thousands of refugees began streaming into Krakow, we did not think twice about the role that the Museum would play.
Since the first days of the war, the Galicia Jewish Museum completely pivoted from its regular activities to fully support Ukrainians in need. We have been able to utilise many of our institutional resources to provide physical aid to refugees and those still remaining in Ukraine, as well as offering our expertise as an educational institution to provide a welcoming and safe learning and activity space for some of the thousands of children who have poured into Krakow over the past weeks.
We wanted to give you a short update about some of the ways we have been helping and to also ask you for your support.
Update: December 2022
At the beginning of October, a day care center for seniors from Ukraine, fleeing to Poland from the Russian aggression that began in February, was launched at the Galicia Jewish Museum. The day care center is a response to the needs of many who, due to the language barrier and finding themselves in a new reality, do not have easy access to warm meals and, in many cases, function on the brink of starvation and loneliness, and are looking for company with whom they can share their experiences and problems.
Until now, there has been no initiative in Krakow to provide Ukrainian refugees aged 60+ with daily full meals including refreshments and a program of activities for all days of the week. Organized by the Galicia Jewish Museum, the day care center, from Monday to Friday after 1pm, also allows them to enjoy city tours with certified guides, pursue creative activities, learn Polish, and even meet with a psychologist, helping them cope with the trauma of fleeing the war. This is especially important for people like Ms. Svetlana, who says of herself that she has already survived three wars in her country, and today is adapting in a new place, and even starting to write the poetry.
Ms. Natalia is grateful to be able to appear at the day care center. “Very often I don’t eat breakfast, and here we have drinks, sugar and baked goods, and on some days also sweet rolls. And thanks to the daily warm lunches, I can make it until the evening.”
The Galicia Jewish Museum is also involved in providing material assistance to refugees who come to the day care center or who, for various reasons, cannot make it to the building, but communicate their needs to the staff. Many of these people have health problems and difficulties obtaining a livelihood. Ms. Lidia, a 70-year-old woman from the Poltava Oblast, has difficulties moving her hand and is in need of urgent rehabilitation. In the future she will most likely not do without surgery to restore her full mobility. She is unable to take advantage of the Museum’s on-site programs because she is caring for her seven-year-old grandson while her daughter, currently the sole breadwinner in the family, is at work. That’s why the help she needs is brought directly to her home, and the Museum already financed her necessary physiotherapy treatments in November, which a family of three living on the national minimum wage could not afford on its own.
The Galicia Jewish Museum, given its own educational mission, part of which is to inform about the atrocities of war, sees in helping refugees from Ukraine the realization of its primary goals, which have guided its activities from the beginning. Jakub Nowakowski, the Museum’s director, believes that the institution has a special responsibility not to be indifferent in the face of suffering. “Do not be indifferent – the famous words of a Holocaust survivor Marian Turski recently uttered at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp are not only about anti-Semitism. We do not want to ignore human suffering and pain. Day care centers for children, and now also for seniors, and providing jobs for refugees at the Museum, are our response to injustice. Of course, we don’t forget that we can bring help only thanks to the support of our donors: foundations and individuals from all over the world. Every meal provided, mental comfort and moment of rest is our joint contribution, and for that I am immensely grateful.”
The issue of mental comfort is something the seniors using the day care center themselves say. Ms. Olena, who came to Poland in April from the Poltava region, had to stop cancer treatment in Ukraine. Her scheduled treatment on February 24 was canceled by doctors after the Russians attacked Kiev. Fortunately, she was able to continue treatment in Poland, although she still wasn’t feeling quite right. “I came alone and it was very hard because I had no one here. I felt like I was depressed and only filled my time with walks. Today I come to the day care center to meet with my friends. It organizes my time just like work used to.” Also, Ms. Nina from Kiev stresses that it helps a lot to be able to meet friends with whom she speaks a common language. “When I arrived in Poland my life at first was focused on finding an apartment, standing in line for food and looking for humanitarian aid and clothing. Until I came to the day care center, I didn’t leave one neighborhood in the city for six months, and I mainly talked to my daughter and grandson. Today it is very important to me that I can also talk to other Ukrainian speakers,” Ms. Natalia adds, “At the day care center we support each other, share our experiences, problems and solutions. Before, I didn’t go out much, only running short errands with the children. Today I am already adapting better in Krakow.”
The seniors at the meetings at the community center unanimously state that the meetings help them and many Ukrainians they know, especially those who came to Poland alone, could find this type of initiative life-changing.
For the Museum and its staff, too, it is important that by making space and time available for Ukrainian refugees, it is possible to help and fulfill in practice the mission of the institution, which aims to spread knowledge about the atrocities of war and create awareness, including by appealing to empathy. Thus, the day care center for refugees is a logical continuation of the educational work of the Galicia Jewish Museum.
Update: June 2022
Collecting and delivering supplies to Ukraine
At the outbreak of the war, the Museum had four Ukrainian employees. One of them gave notice and returned to Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion and the other three still have family members stuck in Ukraine. This includes brothers, fathers, husbands. These staff members are providing us with detailed information about the most urgent needs of those still in Ukraine. Most importantly, one of these colleague’s brothers is a doctor at a hospital in the small town of Fastów, near Kyiv. Thanks to these connections, and some roads which are still open, we are able to send regular shipments. So far the Museum has sent over 40 kg of medicines, 250 kg of food, and almost 100 kg of other supplies (clothes, shoes, diapers, etc).
Galicia Jewish Museum opens day-care for Ukrainian children
On March 14, 2022 the Museum flipped our education and conference rooms into a day-care centre for Ukrainian children. Each day we welcome up to 25 children, who can rest, play, and are provided with meals and educational and cultural programming. The children have taken part in activities such as cooking classes, field trips around Krakow and basic Polish and English lessons.
We are doing all we can to support these children and their families, including providing them with clothing, shoes, medicines and additional food.
In all of this we are constantly supported by our partners and sponsors, most of all the organization JRoots.
Some days we have a waitlist of up to 40 children who would like to join these activities, and we would like to hire more Ukrainian staff to meet this demand.
But at the Museum we understand that it is not only the children who are in need of help. The underage escaped Ukraine, in most cases, only with their mothers, who are now equally lost, traumatized and vulnerable. While some of these people have a shelter: offered by inhabitants of Kraków or in the night shelters run by the municipality or various NGO’s, some are homeless. Vast majority of them are unemployed, and living off whatever little savings they have.
So we are also trying to help by providing paid jobs. This includes hiring two full time teachers to run the day-centre, but also hiring those who can provide additional activities for the children in that day-centre. This includes all sorts of programming like drawing classes, gymnastic, dance lessons, but also physiological and emotional therapy. All of these people are refugees who escaped Ukraine since the outbreak of the war. All in all, at this point we have 8 refugees on a pay-list (three of them full time, five of them part time). This number is likely to go up, if only we will be able to secure the necessary funds. All of the contracts, with exception of one, are short term (month long), but will be prolonged for at least another month, and further, again – depending on the situation in Ukraine and the available funds. At this point most of the costs related with hiring these new employees are covered through the generous support we received from foundations and individuals from all over the world. We are extremely grateful for that.
So we try to help as much as we can. Many of our staff members have also opened their own homes to some of the thousands of refugees arriving in Krakow. Together with my family we have welcomed four groups of refugees into our home since the war began.
Because this is the right thing to do.
Because we have tools and means to do so.
Because we have been teaching about the danger of being indifferent.
Because what we do doesn’t change our mission. It is only the tools that we use, the actions that we take – that are new.
But the story about those that do good, and those that do wrong – is the same.
Galicia Jewish Museum Director
We are still regularly collecting supplies and arranging for shipments to the border. Click on the button below to donate so we can keep buying medicine, food, toiletries and other urgent items.
Valentyna Merzhyievska, The Coordinator of the Galicia Jewish Museum Day-Care for Ukrainian Children:
The children of Ukraine. Each one is different. They come from various places: Kharkiv, Odesa, Lviv, Kyiv, the suburbs of Kyiv, villages from the area of Zhytomyr or Volhynia. They have different interests and level of knowledge. They also have different memories of their pre-war life. All of them were expelled from their places. Probably they would never meet, if it wasn’t for war…
Vasylisa – a girl from a well to do family from Kharkiv. Before the war she was riding horses, had a few purebred dogs, spent vacation in foreign countries. Nothing is left of her home. She left with her family and only one dog.
Svyatoslav – a boy from a small village near Zhytomyr, the youngest son from a large family. He never had a pet. He had animals that he took care of on the farm. He never left his village – until now…
Now they are all sitting together and playing bad people and superheroes.
The superhero’s name is Zelensky.
The children left, because their houses were under fire – sometimes the shelling lasted one night, sometimes – weeks. Some of them don’t have a house anymore and have nowhere to return to. All of the children are different.
In a safe environment of the Museum day-care some relax and calm down, others, which were subject to danger for a long time, need a lot of time and rehabilitation. Some crave for attention, some are more aggressive than others, some are apathetic and still don’t show any signs of emotions.
Personally I feel very well in Krakow, it is a beautiful city. It is a bit smaller than my native Kyiv, but it also has cozy cafes, delicious bread, spacious squares… I walk a lot and I witness the beginnings of the spring, the appearance of first leaves. All of this reminds me of my life in Kyiv before the war. On the day before February 24th we were discussing the necessity of removing old leaves from the lawn because primroses were to appear soon. But I had no time. And each time I see crocuses here, I think of the flowers which were to appear next to my home.
I am indescribably grateful to Poles for all the help they have provided us. We will never forget it. But most of all, I want to come back home, to my books, to my flowers, to everything that I’ve ever loved. Not so long ago my husband went to our house; he stayed in Ukraine to defend the city. He had to move the things, water the plants – we don’t know when will he be able to return there. He said that a few houses nearby were demolished and the forest, that we constantly walked in, has been mined. My children miss their dad a lot, every evening they are looking through souvenirs that they brought with them. They miss school, they miss their friends, who are now in different countries. My oldest son was supposed to graduate this year and continue his education… now he doesn’t even know how to plan his future.
We are all hanging in the dark.
To view the photo gallery of our Day-Care (on Facebook), click HERE.