On 8th May 2019, Kraków City Council agreed a motion to name one of the new streets in the city after David Kurzmann, the caretaker of the Jewish orphanage in the Kraków Ghetto, who remained with the children during its liquidation and was murdered with them.
A contemporary account, written by the Krakow Jewish community immediately after the end of World War II, describes in old-fashioned Hebrew, the moment when he went to his death together with the orphans he raised, begins ‘It happened on October 28, 1942, when the rabbi was 77’….
“When the barbarian Nazis came to destroy us, he did not part from his sainted flock but rather arm in arm with his pupils he marched proudly towards death, sanctifying the Holy Name aloud and giving up his soul in all purity as a righteous man”
Who was David Kurzmann?
David Kurzmann (Dawid Alter Kurzmann), sometimes referred to as “Krakow’s Janusz Korczak” was a businessman, philanthropist and a supporter of the Jewish Orphanage (Zakład Sierot Żydowskich) at 64 Dietla Street, Kraków.
The orphanage grew to gain a reputation as one of the best in Poland. At the outbreak of the war, the leader of the orphanage left Krakow, leaving Kurzmann, the acting director Anna Feuerstein and her husband Julian Leopold Feuerstein to look after the orphanage.
In 1941, the orphanage was relocated into the Kraków Ghetto, initially at ul. Krakusa 8, then moved again, to ul. Józefińska 41, when the ghetto was reduced in size, following the first mass deportation from the ghetto in June 1942.
On 28th October 1942 , the second mass deportation from the ghetto began. This time, despite numerous efforts of the orphanage’s management, the charges were not protected. The orphanage was brutally liquidated. During the so-called October action, the orphanage, home to 200-300 children, was surrounded by a cordon. A group of the oldest boys managed to escape. The rest – the younger children, along with Kurzmann, were taken to Plac Zgody. (now Plac Bohaterów Getta)
Dawid Kurzmann, the head of the department – Anna Feuerstein and her husband Juliusz refused to leave the children.
About five in the afternoon the children of the orphanage, lead by Kurzmann and the educators walked to Płaszów railway station. There they were loaded onto trains and transported, later that evening, East to the extermination camp in Bełżec .
“In this whole horror, Kurzmann tried to remain calm. He knew he could not upset children. He did not want to run away, although he was offered it. He calmly took the tallit, and at the head of his children he went with them along Lwowska and Wielicka to the Płaszów railway station. In silence, without shouting or crying. The children felt that they were under his protection.
From there, they were taken to Bełżec, straight to the gas chambers. Nobody was saved.”
Commemorating David Kurzmann
Tour guides from the Walkative! company began their efforts to honour Dawid Kurzmann in 2017.
“We were celebrating our 10th anniversary and we wanted to thank Kraków for being both our workplace and our passion. We decided to do so by commemorating the orphanage in the ghetto by placing a plaque in its last location, 41 Józefińska Street,”
Małgorzata Fus – Walkative! board member.
It was decided that the next step would be honouring Dawid Kurzmann, the caretaker of the orphanage, by naming one of the streets in Kraków after him.
A petition supporting the cause gained hundreds of signatures. The initiative was also supported by the Jewish Community of Kraków, Galicia Jewish Museum and Jewish Community Centre (JCC) Kraków.
The street location was selected with the assistance of Kraków city officials, and subsequently endorsed by the District VIII Council of Dębniki, where the street is located. The new street will be in the vicinity of Skotnica/Baczyńskiego, Dębniki, Kraków.
On 8th May 2019, the decision was given final approval by the Kraków City Council.
“Dawid Kurzmann was a Cracovian, a Jew, a successful businessman, a teacher, a caretaker. History demanded him to make unimaginable choices. Choices in the face of which it didn’t matter anymore whether he was a Cracovian, a Jew or a businessman. Today we commemorate a man who reacted to those choices exactly the way a good human being should,”
Małgorzata Fus, Walkative! board member, in her statement before the Kraków City Council.
Read more about the life and legacy of David Kurzmann
Street Naming Article (podgórze.pl)
Dawid Kurzmann – “Krakow’s Korczak” (interia.pl)
Article on visit of Kurzmann’s grandson to Kraków (GK)
‘Orphanage in the Jewish Ghetto’ (blog post)
The ‘Janusz Korczak’ Who Saved Hundreds in the Holocaust (Haaretz)
Memories of the wartime fate of “Krakow’s Korczak” (misyjne.pl)
Thanks to Walkative! tours for providing the inspiration for this article.
David fell in love with Kraków 24 years ago, making it his home in 2011.
In 2020 he was awarded the title of Kraków’s Ambassador of Multiculturalism, by the President of Kraków, and is also a member of the GlobalScot network, representing Scottish culture and business abroad.
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