Would I believe it if someone told me six months ago that Krzyżowa would soon become a refuge for people fleeing a war? A war in a neighboring country? Probably not. We felt safe in Europe, which has coexisted peacefully for over 70 years. We believed that the bloody conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s were an isolated incident. Suddenly, on 24th of February 2022, we woke up in a different reality. And we had to find ourselves in it very quickly.

When the war in Ukraine began, like most of us, I followed reports of military operations beyond the eastern border with anxiety and disbelief. It has been a long time for all of us to believe that the war is a fact and that it affects the citizens of an independent and sovereign country in such a brutal and inhumane way. We were shocked because it directly threatened the people we saw in Krzyżowa not so long ago. The last Polish-German-Ukrainian project took place at the International Youth Meeting Center at the end of January this year. It was attended by young people from Krzepice, Marl and Dnipro. We started to think about all the people with whom we have cooperated in recent months and years: children, youth, teachers, activists. We asked ourselves about their safety. We tried to contact them and make sure what help they needed.

But asking questions had to turn into real action very quickly. Krzyżowa opened up to people who had fled the war in Ukraine. Nearly one hundred people found shelter in our center. There are almost no men in this group - mainly mothers with children who, to protect their lives, left everything at home. What they managed to take often fit into a single bag. They arrived exhausted, often despairing and overwhelmed with fear for their husbands, brothers and parents who had been left behind. Completely reliant on our help. Looking at them, I thought of Freya von Moltke, who, 77 years ago, mourning her recently murdered husband, was leaving this place with her two young children. It did not break her, she did so much more good afterwards, she became a symbol and an inspiration. Would this story cheer up the women who visit us? Should we tell them? Helping is the most important thing at this point. As far as we can, we satisfy the most important needs of our guests. And we are planning further action, because we have to reckon that many of these people will stay in Poland for longer. They must be able to learn a language, work, and send children to kindergartens and schools.

At the same time, we are wondering how this war will change our Foundation. Will we read anew the call for "European understanding"? Will the less and less understood word "reconciliation" take on a new meaning? How should we act as a bridge between the east and west of the continent? We must certainly think now about building a new reality after the war. And we certainly should not be afraid of big, bold visions. We are encouraged to do so by the heritage of the Kreisau Circle and Polish-German reconciliation, as well as the history of the creation of the New Kreisau.

But above all it is necessary to help. It is our duty and at the same time our privilege, because what could be better in life than to bring help and good to people in need? For thirty years we have been working in Krzyżowa for international understanding, we promote humanistic and Christian values. Now, as never before, we have the chance to testify how close we really are to our ideas.

I look at our team and I know we are passing this exam. In a short time we were able to adapt our centre to accommodate families. We focus not only on material needs, but also on psychological care and support for people in such dramatic moments. We are looking for funds that will allow us to ensure their stay and safety for as long as they need it. Empathy and commitment of our employees, as well as the support of our friends and partners, including our sister organizations: The Freya von Moltke Foundation for the New Kreisau and Kreisau-Initiative e.V., as well as the Krzyżowa-Music Festival team are huge. But this is only the beginning of a long, difficult road. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise. At the same time, however, let us not succumb to fear and discouragement. Together we are strong!


Dr Robert Żurek
Managing Director, Member of the Management Board
Krzyżowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe

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