In the mid-Eastern region of Poland sits a lush, small town known as Nowy Dwór. From the early 17th century to World War II, Nowy Dwór was home to a thriving Jewish community of about 4,000, where REALTOR® David Wluka’s father—a Holocaust survivor—was born. The German occupation of Nowy Dwór began in 1939, and by the end of the war in 1945, nearly every resident had been killed.
In the late 1980s, Wluka, broker-owner of Wluka Real Estate Corp. in the Boston suburb of Sharon, Mass., traveled with his dad, Icek, to the Auschwitz concentration camp near Icek’s former hometown. It was the first time Icek had returned to the area since escaping with his life, and Wluka didn’t want him to make the journey alone. They then went to Nowy Dwór, where Icek had hoped to show Wluka what his life was like before the Holocaust. But when they arrived, all traces of Jewish life—the synagogue, Icek’s childhood home and the local cemetery—had vanished.
Wluka and his father made a pact to resurrect the cemetery and ensure the once-thriving Jewish community that resided in Nowy Dwór was remembered for generations to come. However, Icek passed away before the memorial became a reality, and it took a significant amount of time for the project to come to fruition. In the early 2000s, Wluka crossed paths with a man named Ze’ev Shaked, whose father ran a blacksmith shop with Icek. Inspired and filled with purpose, Wluka and Shaked teamed up and pressed on to restore the Jewish cemetery and build a memorial.
Over time as he worked on the project, Wluka learned that Nowy Dwór’s modern residents had never met a Jewish person and didn’t know the town’s rich Jewish history. The more he learned, the more he realized that education in conjunction with memorialization was necessary to truly honor Nowy Dwór. He wanted the memorial to serve not only as a historical marker but also a source of information and agent for change. To make that happen, Wluka says, the town’s children needed to be involved. “We worked with the Nowy Dwór schools, who took an interest in the project from the beginning,” he says.
Wluka and his partners on the memorial devised an essay contest in which school-age children write on the topic of racial tolerance after learning about the Jewish heritage in Nowy Dwór. Teachers also have access to the memorial as a teaching tool. The contest has been so impactful in the local schools that interest in participation spread to Mazowieki, the county where Nowy Dwór is located.
Today, the memorial is an integral part of the Nowy Dwór community. Working with local community members and leaders, Wluka and Shaked were able to ensure that the cemetery and memorial are cared for in perpetuity. In the U.S., Wluka speaks of the project and its significance to any local school interested in learning more, one of which was his alma mater, Boston University. Most recently, he spoke to students at Pope Francis Prep in Springfield, Mass. He also worked with his Israeli cousin, Zvi Plachinski, to send 100 students to Nowy Dwór to learn and live with other local students. The more children involved in the project, Wluka says, the better. And he hopes its influence keeps growing.
Current political unrest and violence worldwide, Wluka says, makes the Nowy Dwór memorial of utmost importance. “As a child of Holocaust survivors and a student of the Holocaust, I see conditions similar to what things were like in Germany in the 1930s. Racism, nationalism, fascism and worse are growing exponentially.”
However, children give him hope. “My outreach for change focuses on kids; they are the only means to effect it permanently,” Wluka says. “I believe that only the young will be able to bring us back to a sane world.”
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