Meeting XXXII: 2-3 July 2017
On 2 and 3 July 2017, the 32nd session of the International Auschwitz Council under the Prime Minister of Poland was held at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim. The session was presided over by Prof. Barbara Engelking.
On the first day of the session, Director Piotr M.A. Cywiński summed up the activities of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in the past months since the previous meeting of the Council. He pointed out to the constantly increasing record attendance of the Museum, which in 2016 reached 2 million 53 thousand visitors. He emphasized that without the electronic system for booking entry passes it would not be possible to ensure the safety of visitors and the priceless historical exhibits. In this context, large-scale projects run by the Museum are getting increasingly important. They include the construction of new Visitor Service Centre as well as the adaptation of the so-called Old Theatre to serve as the seat of the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
Director Cywiński also emphasized the importance of the Museum’s plea for the transfer of private documents and memorabilia connected with former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp garrison. At the beginning of the year the plea was published in Germany and Austria. As a result, it has already been possible to collect nearly 2 thousand documents, gathered for decades by Władysław Rath, the Holocaust Survivor. Moreover, Director Cywiński presented in details the Museum’s activity in the field of conservation, education and exhibition. He also added that the www.auschwitz.org website has been recording millions of hits, including over 160 thousand virtual visitors recorded last year.
Furthermore, Director Cywiński presented the outcomes of the April meeting of experts from all over the world, including UNESCO representatives, in Wannsee (Berlin). The fact that Auschwitz-Birkenau is the only German Nazi concentration and extermination camp inscribed – according to the pars pro toto principle – on the World Heritage List constituted the starting point for the discussion. During the meeting, the experts established the memorandum emphasizing the importance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site as a model for other former camp sites. They also decided that UNESCO regulations as well as rules established by the International Auschwitz Council have to be followed in other Memorial Sites in Europe.
Jarosław Sellin, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, presented the report devoted to Memorial Sites in Płaszów, Sobibór and Treblinka.
He said that:
- works aiming at securing the premises of former German KL Plaszow camp are in progress. Preliminary scenario of new commemoration has also been prepared. Architectural relicts have been discovered during site works; new area of the former camp is now being determined;
- discussions concerning the Memorial Site status within the former German extermination center in Treblinka are being held; it is intended to become a museum co-organized by the Ministry of Culture and Masovian Voivodeship self-government;
- in June, the meeting of the international Steering Committee took place; the committee supervises the project of establishing new commemoration site within the premises of former German extermination camp in Sobibór. Works connected with dignified securing of a forest clearing with mass graves are approaching their end; the first stage of construction of the museum building is going to be completed by the end of the year.
Minister Sellin also presented the already organized and planned commemorative events of the 75th anniversary of Aktion Reinhardt and the Holocaust of Polish Jews by the Third Reich.
On the first day of the meeting, Director Cywiński awarded the “If Not For Those Ten…” award to volunteers and representatives of institutions supporting volunteerism at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site. At the end of the first day of the meeting, IAC members visited the outdoor exhibition devoted to the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
On the second day of the meeting, Oświęcim Starost Zbigniew Starzec and representatives of the Auschwitz Memento Association Mirosław Krzyszkowski and Bogdan Wasztyl presented the idea of a new museum dedicated to the inhabitants of the surroundings of Oświęcim who provided aid to the prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during the war. It is supposed to be erected in the building of the so called Lagerhaus situated near the Memorial Site.
IAC members rejected the first working name for the institution: “Museum of the Righteous from the Auschwitz region” in order to avoid confusion of titles. In this context, it does not refer to the Righteous Among the Nations in the strict sense of the title awarded by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, but in the sense of the resolution of the European Parliament.
Members of the Council as well as invited guests presenting the idea of the new museum unanimously agreed that:
- the new establishment shall not become a competitor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, but it has to be erected in close cooperation with the Memorial Site;
- any parallel narrative, i.e. the narrative excluding different groups of Victims and crucial aspects of history, shall not be accepted;
- IAC shall present their opinion on the exhibition scenario and the representatives of A-BSM as well as IAC will form the council of the newly established museum.
The next point on the agenda referred to the scenario of the new Austrian exhibition at Auschwitz-Birkenau. According to IAC guidelines, its authors have introduced a number of modifications, which A-BSM experts have recently started to analyze. Hannah Lessing, Secretary General of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, was invited to the session. Having discussed the topic with IAC, she accepted with satisfaction the general direction of modifications of the scenario of the Austrian exhibition and expressed her recognition for the authors. As far as detailed modifications are concerned, the discussions are going to be held between the authors and A-BSM experts, while keeping the IAC Presidium updated as far as their results are concerned.
Dr. Barbara Glück, Head of the “Mauthausen Memorial Site” Austrian Federal Office, as well as Marek Zając, IAC Secretary, presented the reports concerning the former German Nazi camp Gusen.
Within the discussion the Council called for the immediate purchase of three plots of land in Gusen in order to save priceless post-camp relicts. The Council was satisfied with the efforts undertaken during last months in connection with the former camp and recommended the continuation of cooperation among others in the field of creating in Gusen a dignified commemoration site and education center, extending their mandate for Marek Zając. At the same time – in order to preserve the remains of the former camp – suggestions for the potential buyout of the plots of land by the Polish party or the organization of public fundraising were presented.
In the afternoon, the IAC members visited the “Face to Face. Art in KL Auschwitz” exhibition in one of the branches of the National Museum in Cracow, expressing their utmost recognition to the authors. Then, they visited the premises of the former camp in Płaszów as well as the relicts directly associated with its history. Having discovered the shocking devastation of one of the most valuable remains of the camp, they wrote a letter to Prof. Jacek Majchrowski, the mayor of the city of Cracow:
The International Auschwitz Council expresses their deepest disapproval of the shocking fact of drastic devastation of one of two buildings, the remains of the tragic history of the KL Plaszow German camp – i.e. the villa in which camp commandant Amon Göth had resided.
On July 3rd 2017, IAC members were visiting – together with several other groups of Polish and foreign visitors, areas of martyrdom – former camp premises and the relicts directly associated with its history.
Upon reaching the house situated at Heltman Street, we saw an unthinkable picture. A private owner was performing general reconstruction of the building – supposedly under strict supervision of the municipal monument conservator – turning this unique historical exhibit into a kitsch luxurious villa.
Taking into consideration the timeless commitment to care for the memory of the Victims, both Jewish citizens of the pre-war city of Cracow as well as murdered Poles, whose fate is tragically correlated with this area – we are unable to express our resentment for such an outrageous example of effacing memory and ignoring the fate of concrete human beings. It constitutes bitter irony that such things are happening while the city of Cracow is hosting the 41st session of UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
As members of the International Auschwitz Council, serving the most difficult advisory functions in connection with these particularly painful issues, we feel deceived and exploited as for months, the representatives of the city of Cracow have been assuring us that this building, representing such an important historical and symbolical value, remains under scrupulous and uninterrupted care of the monuments conservator, and any works influencing its historical substance are being realized under his constant supervision.
Today, the only possible measure is for us to demand immediate and reliable inspection – by all services appointed for this purpose – of procedures applied in this drastic case and reasons for indefensible decisions made in connection with the present issue.
This situation is for us particularly painful, as four members of the International Auschwitz Council have been appointed by Mr. Mayor as members of the Community Council for the creation of the Museum – Memorial Site within the former KL Plaszow camp premises. The Council had the intention to share the responsibility for the shaping of a dignified commemoration for the Victims and history of the camp. For this reason, we must strongly emphasize that all decisions concerning the devastation of the only remnants of the former German camp were made without notifying our members and obtaining their consent.
Unfortunately, further repercussions may be undertaken, as the situation makes us doubt whether other monuments connected with the martyrdom of the Second World War and the Holocaust – in theory also under the supervision of monuments conservator – are as secure as it has been presented so far.
It is impossible to undo the damages which have already occurred. However, we will not accept further continuation of the devastation and demand the authorities of the city of Cracow draw severe consequences with respect to persons responsible for the situation.