OLD IRVING PARK — An influential German-Jewish writer who died in the Holocaust could be honored by having a Northwest Side park renamed in her honor this spring.
Neighbors began a campaign in late 2020 to rename Kolmar Park, 4143 N. Kolmar Ave., for poet Gertrud Kolmar, who was born in Berlin in 1894 and was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. Kolmar wrote more than 450 poems, two short novels, short stories and other pieces, continuing her work even while persecuted by the Nazis before and during World War II.
The initiative received support from all over the world — including from Kolmar’s relatives, who found out about the news after Block Club reported on the effort.
At the Chicago Park District’s board meeting Wednesday, commissioners voted to open a 45-day notice and comment period on the effort. Two Northwest Side residents who are on the committee for the initiative also spoke in favor of the rededication.
“Gertrud Kolmar was the greatest German, Jewish and female poets of her era — and perhaps of recent modern history,” committee member Daniel Egel-Weiss said at the meeting. “Due to systemic hate and bigotry, her life was cut short and she was murdered in the Holocaust alongside her friends, family and community.”
The comment period will remain open until the middle of March. People can submit letters of support to the board via the Park District website or by calling 312-742-4762.
Neighbors can also email the committee spearheading the effort at firstname.lastname@example.org, which has collected and passed along letters of support to the Park District, Egel-Weiss said.
Commissioners could vote on the approval at the April meeting, paving the way for an official rededication shortly thereafter.
The board has reviewed the renaming application since it was received at the end of 2020, but the city’s Monument Project, which flagged potentially problematic park monuments, pushed renaming efforts to the back burner.
Despite the long wait for the board to make a move on the request, it came at an apt time, as Thursday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Egel-Weiss said.
“The work done on this project was well-vetted and it’s something beautiful for the neighborhood and can bring the community together,” said Park District Commissioner Modesto Valle, who lives in Irving Park. “I very much support this.”
Keeping History Alive
Kolmar Park is named for the street on which it sits. Kolmar Avenue got its name from a town on the border of France and Germany, according to the Chicago Park District website. Kolmar was the name of two towns in Germany, but the borders were changed after World War I in 1919. The towns separated and now have different names.
After Block Club reported on the rededication effort, Kolmar’s great-nephew, Paul Chodziesner, who lives in Australia, reached out to express his gratitude for the neighbors’ work.
“I’m passionate about [the Holocaust’s] impact on families and our lives,” Chodziesner previously told Block Club. It “not only took the lives of millions, but also reduced the family lines such that large families with many potential branches were reduced and many disappeared forever.”
The neighborhood effort has received backing from dozens of residents and organizations, including State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, who advocates teaching the Holocaust in schools; State Rep. Jaime Andrade; the Illinois Holocaust Museum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland.
Neighbors also started an online petition with signatories from Chicago, Canada, Germany, England and Belgium.
Dank Haus, the German-American cultural center in Lincoln Square, has offered to co-sponsor an educational component for the park. The Old Irving Park Association has set aside more than $1,000 to pay for a plaque honoring Kolmar should the renaming be approved.
The local effort to rededicate Kolmar Park would spread the poet’s work internationally and keep her alive for future generations, Chodziesner said.
If it gets approved, Chodziesner said he would come to Chicago to celebrate the rededication and see the park.
“I wouldn’t think twice about it. I’d definitely come and represent the family,” he said. “I think if dad was still around, he would have, too.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: