OLD IRVING PARK — A Northwest Side park has been rededicated in honor of Gertrud Kolmar, an influential German-Jewish author and poet who died in the Holocaust.
The renaming effort concludes a neighborhood campaign to rededicate Kolmar Park, 4143 N. Kolmar Ave., that began a year and a half ago and gained international support — including from Kolmar’s last living relatives, who found out about the effort after reading a Block Club story.
The Park District board voted unanimously last week to approve the new name as the final step of the process.
The park was formerly named for the street on which it sits, Kolmar Avenue, which referenced a town on the border of France and Germany, according to the Park District.
The rededication is a win for Northwest Siders who had pushed for the honor since late 2020. They hope the change will remind people to practice acceptance and teach the community about the little-known yet talented poet.
Gertrud Kolmar, who was born in Berlin in 1894 and died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943, wrote more than 450 poems, two short novels, short stories and other writings, continuing her work even while persecuted by the Nazis before and during World War II.
Merry Marwig, who lives near the park and is a board member of the Old Irving Park Association, spearheaded the renaming effort and created the Committee to Rename Kolmar Park. She hopes the renaming can bring the poet peace, she said.
The rededication is like “a resolution coming from this dark moment in history,” Marwig said. “It’s a way to honor what happened. … It’s really about learning from the past, remembering people like Gertrud Kolmar; and every other person [killed in the Holocaust], whether you are famous or not, needs to be remembered. This is one way we can do that.”
Fellow committee member Daniel Egel-Weiss, who is Jewish and has been disturbed by the rise in local and national anti-Semitic hate crimes, said the rededication is a chance to educate younger people to accept everyone and speak out against hate. The committee plans to hold educational programs in partnership with local Jewish organizations and public officials.
“Our vision for this park is to make it a permanent, public space where everyone can go learn about acceptance and love,” Egel-Weiss said. “This effort gives me a lot of hope. Seeing the community come together around this initiative … it’s been exponentially gratifying.”
The committee is working with the Park District to spruce up the park and schedule a celebration to commemorate the new name. The group also wants to create a physical representation of Kolmar with a memorial bench or sculpture.
The Old Irving Park Association has set aside $1,000 for a plaque, and local artists have submitted proposals of ways to celebrate Kolmar, Marwig said. A musician is working on an original song about the poet that will be performed at the renaming celebration, she said.
Kolmar’s great-nephew, Paul Chodziesner, who lives in Australia and spoke in favor of the renaming at last week’s board meeting with his brother, plans to fly to Chicago to celebrate.
“You only get this opportunity once,” Chodziesner said. “Part of the reason to attend the efforts is to thank everyone … the neighbors coming up with an idea and running it through — it’s touching.”
Kolmar Park is the 72nd Chicago park named in honor of a woman, according to a Park District news release.
The Committee to Rename Kolmar Park was inspired by a yearslong campaign led by neighborhood youth to rename Douglass Park in North Lawndale. Egel-Weiss said the experience showed how accessible local government can be with persistence and dedication.
“We came together with this goal in mind, and through persistence and teamwork, we got this done,” he said. “All it takes is action. In our public spaces, there is so much potential — they’re more than just an open space, they’re community spaces for growth.”
Chodziesner hopes the rededication can keep his family history alive and show folks the power of literature and history — while making sure tragedies like the Holocaust aren’t forgotten or repeated.
“The recognition to Gertrud personally is quite surreal,” he said. “The fact that she was murdered years ago and to have that legacy live on … it’s an honor. It also brings to the fore what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine at the moment — like, how can the world sit back and let this sort of thing happen again?”
Since Chodziesner’s father’s death in 2018, he has learned more about his family history and the effects the Holocaust had on his relatives. He said he has also learned about Kolmar’s work, mostly through literature, biographies and the little memories his father and grandfather shared with him.
Gertrud Kolmar, born Gertrud Käthe Chodziesner, was the eldest of four children and the only one of her family to remain in Berlin as Nazis persecuted Jewish people. Her Chodziesner family members settled in various countries, including Australia, Switzerland and Chile.
Kolmar was the poet’s pen name, but she legally kept her family name. The German name for Chodzież is Kolmar, Chodziesner said.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: