A QUESTION ABOUT AUSCHWITZ
FR. PIOTR BĄCZEK
Organizers of this year’s celebrations of the camp liberation emphasize that today it is necessary to place in the centre those who were saved. The director of the National Museum Auschwitz dr. Piotr Cywiński emphasizes on an official portal that former prisoners did everything what they could in order to help us realize the fact that the biggest tragedies appear relatively easily. – So far these were them who taught us to look at the tragedy of victims of the German Third Reich and the complete destruction of the world of European Jews. It was their voice which became a full warning against our human one, ability to extreme humiliation, detest and genocide. However, very soon not witnesses of those years, but we – post-war generations – will pass over this terrible teaching to others and depressing conclusions coming from it.
Certainly, the strength of a message coming from Auschwitz-Birkenau is also the authenticity of this place, the only one which was maintained in the camp of death to such an extent. Therefore, from the year 2009, a foundation is functioning, which is aimed at creating a permanent capital which should amount to 120 million euro (so far it has been possible to collect the amount of 102 million euro), from which profits would be 4-5 million euro annually. It would allow for conducting a long-term program of conservation on the area of the Place of Remembrance and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Memory and education
Another full anniversary has a chance to arouse more and more awareness of necessary education of the next generations. The words: ‘it has a chance’ are not accidental here. Because, if, on the one hand, we are aware that there is a distance between us and the Holocaust and we remember it very well, on the other hand, in the issue of education is much more to do.
For example, we can be glad that on the World Map of Remembrance, which was placed on the official webpage of anniversary celebrations of the camp liberation, there are about 100 events, whose purpose is to reminisce facts from before 70 years. Among them there are, among the others, places so distanced from Auschwitz, as Wellington in New Zealand, where a new exhibition is going to be opened: ‘From Auschwitz to Aotaria: to survive the German Nazis concentration camp’, organized by the Centre Holocaust there. The exhibition tells about nine women from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany and Hungary who were prisoners of Auschwitz and labour camps, and after the war emigrated to New Zealand where they set up their families and developed their professional life.
On the World Map of Remembrance there were also marked events, organizationally ranging on a wide scale, as well as small projects, like the one prepared by students of a Junior High School no 1 in Gerałtowice. On the anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz through the school radio broadcasting system a program is going to be broadcast, in which students will share their reflections on their trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in October. Such example may be well-perceived, but there is also something sad.
- Every year, the number of young people visiting the camp is decreasing – explains Andrzej Kacorzyk, the director of the International Centre of Education about Auschwitz and Holocaust, pointing to three reasons of such a state of things. The first of them is change in education curriculum of history at schools, the second one – the significance of the topic which requires responsibility from teachers and educators in preparing and summing up the visit to this camp, while the third one – the mentioned lack of financial support. – We are one of the last big European countries which does not have this support program for visits in the museum, which functions, for example, in Great Britain, in Germany, in France or in Italy – explains Andrzej Kacorzyk.
The institution run by him together with the Diocese of Bielsko and Żywiec and the Centre of Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim created an educational project: ‘Through the common history towards future’, addressed to students of junior high and after- junior high schools. Within the project made on the basis of the celebrations of Judaism Day in the Catholic Church, having arrived in Oświęcim, on the basis of a special program, students visit the Jewish Museum and the synagogue Chewra Lomdej Misznajot, the only saved Jewish house of prayer in Oświęcim, the camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Centre of Dialogue and Prayer. The visited places are to help the young generation realize what life of the Christians and Jews looked like before the war, and also the degree and significance of the common tragedy in the extermination camp, in order to come out towards future through getting to know actions for the sake of a dialogue and peace.
- Education must make other important steps, before the teaching about Auschwitz and about the Extermination will be placed in the systems of social studies, and in teaching of modern history – Piotr Cywiński says, emphasizing that education connected with Auschwitz is also teaching about the man, the society, the power of media, about politics.
- An example are social frustrations, a note of demagogy, an imagined enemy, a moment of craziness… Construction of peace is very fragile and it is impossible to assume that any ‘acquis communaitaire’ – the community acquis is, in fact, acquired once forever. It is seen today very well in a few regions of the world and it is worrying in this way. The future of our civilization lies, in fact, in our hands and we must be responsible for its shape. A wise vision of the future must be rooted in memory – the director of the Museum Auschwitz emphasizes.
Mystery and faith
Surely throughout 70 years of struggles with memory about such tragic events, a lot has happened. For example, considering the strongly sounding question about God’s presence (or His absence – as some philosophers presented the problem), one can say that somehow, ‘at the threshold of Auschwitz’ there appeared an answer. ‘In the trend of post-war theology, Auschwitz became strait. Some people proclaimed the end of theology, others created theology which was dull and sad, those who were less courageous, avoided this issue, those who were courageous, undertook the issue for the advantage for theology. Today one can say that theology after Auschwitz did not die, or become pessimistic. The passing time confirmed its essentiality because after the war there developed theologies of hope, the cross, people, reconciliation, love, mercifulness, resurrection, although they seldom accentuated their relations with this unusual place on the earth’ – this diagnosis concerning the condition of the Polish theology was outlined by Fr. Assoc. Prof. Krzysztof Kaucha from the Catholic University of Lublin in the book ‘Perspectives of theology after Auschwitz’, edited in the Centre of Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim.
Speaking about the Centre of Dialogue and Prayer, which was established as a place of a dialogue between people and nations of various cultures and religions, it is important to mention the person of Fr. Dr. Manfred Deselaers. This German priest, living in the parish of Assumption of Blessed Mary in Oświęcim from 1990, has been working for many years, for the sake of a dialogue and reconciliation just ‘at the threshold of Auschwitz’. In the year 2000 the Polish Council of Christians and Jews honoured him with the title of the Man of Reconciliation, granted to people who particularly contributed to the Christian-Jewish dialogue in Poland. Although his academic and pastoral path and didactic activity have been concentrated on the event of Auschwitz for a few decades, he still emphasizes that it was a process of discovering a mystery. – We realize more and more that this experience is somehow a mystery for all of us. Because most radical answers are not sufficient yet – explains Fr. Deselaers. – Here it is not enough to say that ‘I understand’. I get convinced more and more that facing such an experience as Auschwitz, it is more important to be together, to pray together, even if we believe in a different way – adds the priest emphasizing that today Auschwitz is our great challenge in order to discover and understand that every man has his own dignity which is rooted in God.
- It is impossible to explain this dignity or understand it with the usage of these or those studies. It is simply necessary to believe in this dignity – Fr. Deselares states.
This opinion goes together with his statement from the year 2000, in which he stated that ‘it is impossible to consider the problem of Auschwitz without the religious dimension’. It is true that we want to face this problem, but religious right opinions are removed from the public debate and it may turn out that something important may slip out of the question about Auschwitz. And it may happen not only to us but also to those who do not meet the witnesses of those events any more.