Grodzka Gate – A Portal to Our Past

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

As we often discuss in these articles, technology can offer innovative uses as a tool for education. Many of the activities of the NN Theatre (click on the Union Jack for English) at the Grodzka Gate demonstrate how technology can be used in creative ways for formal and informal education.

Grodzka Gate: Old and New

Recently I was in Lublin, Poland, where I visited the Grodzka Gate (Brama Grodzka). The gate, overlooking the castle, was one of the main entries into the old city of Lublin. In the period before World War II, Lublin’s population was about a third Jewish. Most of their houses, businesses, and places of worship and study were located in the area around the castle and the Brama Grodzka.

The gate served as the main passage between the Christian and Jewish parts of the city. After the destruction of World War II, the gate fell into disrepair. In 1992, a theatre group took possession of it and in doing so discovered a cultural link with symbolism that they could not ignore. The NN Theatre enlarged its activities from traditional theatre productions to becoming a vehicle for uncovering, preserving, and sharing the past.

Today the Grodzka Gate houses an extensive archive of recordings, photographs, documents, and other memorabilia that documents the pre-World War II history of Lublin. The group has recorded the testimonies of over 800 people, about 2,500 hours of oral history, which focus on what Lublin and the surrounding area were like in the pre-war period. Transcripts have been analyzed and catalogued thematically. Many audio and video excerpts are available online.

There are numerous online links that give access to a variety of material. The Memory Gate Project “takes visitors for a walk around the streets of vanished Jewish city in Lublin, shows the spatial arrangement of the Jewish district and presents the most important places related with the Lublin Jewish community.”

Another project was the creation of a model of what Lublin looked like on the eve of World War II, before much of the city, including the Jewish Quarter, was destroyed. This model has been converted to Google Earth, and the overlay of the pre-war city onto the contemporary city will soon be available online. Comparisons can be made between modern day Lublin and the city as it was 70 years ago. There are also plans to create virtual models of the city at various stages from the 13th century on.

Henio Żytomirski

Another project they have developed is “Letters to Henio.” Henio was a boy who was murdered in Majdanek Concentration Camp. Photos and other information about him were preserved, and the group has created a memorial project in which many school children in the region are involved. One original conception of the project was to use the social networking site, Facebook, to involve participants. One organizer set himself up as “Henio.” However, Facebook closed it down as an inappropriate use of the medium. However, before being shut down, the site got over 3,000 hits.

The brochure from Grodzka Gate says that their websites comprise the sixth largest digital library in Poland. As the projects continue to grow, I am sure it will soon rival the largest in many countries.

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