Kolmar Park named for poet Gertrud Kolmar murdered in the Holocaust
by JASON MEREL
Kolmar Park, 4143 N. Kolmar Ave., in Old Irving Park, now honors renowned German-Jewish poet Gertrud Kolmar instead of the street it is located on.
The name change comes following a 2-year effort by several residents to rename the Northwest Side park for the poetess, who was murdered in a concentration camp in the Holocaust.
More than a hundred people attended a rededication ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 22, which included several elected officials from both the city and state, neighbors, students from Belding School and Schurz High School, and two of Kolmar’s living relatives: grand-nephew Paul Chodziesner of Melbourne, Australia, and Toby Kaufmann-Buhler of Lafayette, IN.
“There are so many important stories, so many unsung heroes, all across our city, all across the decades,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the event. “We need to make sure that we are lifting up those stories and reclaiming our narrative, and never letting anybody define who we are.”
The park was originally named after Kolmar Avenue, which was presumably named for a European village near the border of Germany and France. A group of Northwest Side residents formed the Kolmar Park Rededication Committee and submitted an application in 2020 to the Chicago Park District to rededicate the park.
The group plans to organize educational programming at the park around the themes of peace and tolerance. Members of the committee are Daniel Egel-Weiss, Mark Dobrzycki, Jacob Kaplan, Merry Marwig and Daniel Pogorzelski. The group thanked several local and national organizations and museums for their help in making the rededication of the park a reality.
Kolmar, whose real name was Gertrud Käthe Chodziesner, was born in Berlin in 1894 to a father from a Polish village and a mother from Germany. She was an educator, interpreter and an author, according to a pamphlet available at the ceremony. When the Nazis came to power, she stayed to care for her father Ludwig, Paul Chodziesner said. But her family was separated in 1941 and she was ordered by the Nazis into forced labor at a munitions plant. In March of 1943 she was arrested and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where she was killed.
Gertrud’s first collections were published in 1917, according to Chodziesner. Her works included more than 450 poems, two short novels and several short stories.
“She wrote in German, her family roots were in Poland, she was murdered because she was Jewish, and her legacy survives,” the pamphlet said.
Chodziesner passed along a message from another relative named Sabina, living in Brazil, that said she was very happy that the park will be named after Gertrud, and did not want her to be remembered as a victim of the Holocaust but as one of the great German poets of the 21st century. He added that Kolmar was always referred to as “Trudy” by family members.
The rededication was approved by the Chicago Park District on Jan. 26. Some officials attending the event included Alderman James Gardiner (45th), state Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19), Mayor Lightfoot, park district superintendent Rosa Escareno and others.
State Senator Sara Feigenholtz (D-6) said she hoped the dedication would inspire students and neighbors to be “upstanders.”
“When a kid in their class gets bullied, when someone is called a name that we no longer want to have in our vocabulary, when there’s hatred and prejudice publicly displayed, that people stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry, that’s inappropriate,’” Feigenholtz said. “We’re all part of the human family.”
Chodziesner said that Gertrud Kolmar did not have any direct links to Chicago but noted that the dedication introduced him to his distant cousin, Kaufmann-Buhler, which created new links in their family.
Several people also thanked local and online media for covering the rededication push, which is how the news of the efforts supposedly got to Chodziesner in Australia.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Why Chicago?’” Chodziesner said. “And I think ‘Because’ is the answer.”