Karolina Jakoweńko founded the Fundacja Brama Cukermana (Cukerman's Gate Foundation—FBC) in March 2009 to commemorate and promote education regarding the Jewish heritage of Będzin, Poland. "I come from Będzin and grew up here, and I wanted to do something for the city," said Jakoweńko. "I was dreaming of a Jewish culture festival." The municipality informed her of a private house of prayer, which the FBC later rented.
The prayer house in question was Cukerman's Gate, a former synagogue that had been turned into a warehouse during WWII and was later converted into residential housing. In 2007, Polish high school students volunteered to remove a layer of paint to reveal frescoes that had adorned the walls of the synagogue unseen since the end of the 1930s. After getting the paintings added to a list of regional monuments, the FBC raised money to restore and preserve the paintings. The FBC set up an educational center in the former synagogue, opening its doors to visitors interested in the city's Jewish history.
"We began collecting first-hand accounts about Jewish Będzin, before it was too late," said Jakoweńko. "That was the beginning of our library of oral testimonies, which we call Witnesses to History."
A few years after founding the FBC, Jakoweńko joined a group of Polish educators and guides from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum in a seminar at Yad Vashem in November 2012. In the course of the seminar, she received pedagogical tools and techniques, and studied methods to further enhance FBC's programming. Among other subjects, Jakoweńko and the FBC's volunteers teach interested youth about prewar life in Będzin from a religious Jew's perspective, the history of the community, and walking tours of the town.
In addition to sponsoring educational activities, Jakoweńko appealed to the local authorities to take action to preserve the few remaining Jewish cemeteries in Będzin and the Silesian district. The FBC published a report in Polish on the state of the cemeteries, calling on Poles to appreciate them "as a part of our cultural inheritance."
In September 2014, the FBC sponsored a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Great Synagogue in Będzin, which had served the Jewish community since the 16th century. On September 9, 1939, the building was set ablaze while it was still filled with worshippers. The commemoration included a lecture on the history of the Jews of Będzin, a religious ceremony, and candle lighting. The FBC continued its educational and commemorative outreach during its first-ever meeting of the Friends of the Cukerman's Gate Foundation in September 2015.
In addition to learning more about Israel, Jakoweńko said that the seminar at Yad Vashem broadened her understanding of how history affects the present. "I had a great educational experience, which is helping me in my work with youth," she said. "When telling them about the Shoah, I draw from the methods and activities from the seminar at Yad Vashem, including films, music, and eyewitness testimony in class. Original artifacts and primary source documents make workshops about this difficult period of history more accessible to learners."