When Dan Pogorzelski introduced the poetry of German-Jewish poet Gertrud Kolmar to his Old Irving Park neighbor, Merry Marwig, he had no idea that two years later their Northwest Side neighborhood park would be rededicated in her honor.
The poet died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943.
Kolmar Park was originally named for the street it is on, Kolmar Avenue, which the Chicago Park District says was named after a town that borders France and Germany.
After learning of Gertrud Kolmar’s life and work, Marwig spearheaded a campaign to have the park rededicated in honor of the poet who died during the Holocaust.
Marwig was inspired by the renaming of Douglass Park in 2020. That park, originally named Douglas Park after Illinois senator and slave owner Stephen Douglas, added an ‘s’ to the park’s name and was rededicated in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and his wife, Anna Murray-Douglass.
Hundreds of neighbors gathered for the Kolmar Park rededication ceremony Sept. 22.
Others travelled from much farther away, including Gertrud Kolmar’s great-nephew, Paul Chodziesner, who flew to Chicago from his home in Australia to represent his family at the event. He thanked local organizers and highlighted his great-aunt’s writings.
“Nature and animals were two of her passions and important inspirations for her work. How fitting that a park would be named after her,” he said.
Chodziesner also spoke of how Gertrude Kolmar could have left Germany but remained to take care of her father. “She sacrificed her own life to be with him to the end.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot was also in attendance for the park rededication and spoke of how inspiring she found Kolmar’s story.
“Now she’s known as one of the greatest German poets in history. The fact that we are honoring her today, memorializing her history, is a great testament to who we are as a city,” Lightfoot said. “Her story is our story, all the German immigrants that have come to Chicago to call it home over the centuries. We add to that story and that legacy by honoring her in this park.”
Lightfoot also complimented local organizers for their persistence.
“This shows me the best of who we are as Chicagoans. The way in which we come together block by block and make a difference,” Lightfoot said. “This happened because the people in this community came together and said this is what we want to do. You did this. You found this incredible story from the Holocaust.”