10 years of work of Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński as the director of the Memorial
1 September 2016 marks ten years of the work of Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński as the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Within the last ten years, the Memorial has developed dynamically and changed in several aspects.
On a scale incomparable to any Memorial in the World, it has developed preservation programs and created the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation with an accumulated Endowment Fund of over 100 (of the planned 120 million euro), which serves the long-term financing of work on preserving the authenticity of all the remains of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. In 2016, the grant of the Foundation for the Memorial will be approximately 8 million Polish zlotys. Thanks to the funds raised necessary conservation works commenced in the area of the former women's camp at Birkenau, among others. Workshops and conservation laboratories were also developed, and the number of employed conservators increased multiple times. Thanks to action taken under the Foundation's activities, the Auschwitz Museum is the only Memorial in the world, with such an extensive infrastructure that serves conservation.
The development of a variety of educational activities, including e-learning, conducted by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust makes the Museum perceived as an important and valued educational center. The prepared development project so-called “The Old Theatre” for the educational headquarters of the ICEAH obtained funding in 2016 from the EU, and therefore opens up completely new perspectives for the growing educational programmes of the Museum.
Work has begun to completely modify the main exhibitions dating from 1955. Several new temporary and national exhibitions have been created, as well as several expositions traveling around the world. An authentic German railway wagon from the period of the deportation has been placed at the ramp on the premises of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. It has become one of the symbols of the Memorial.
The rules for the loan of historical objects has been completely redefined. Huge investments to protect the original remains of the former camp were implemented in the museum’s Collections and Archive among others. Legal measures were intensified to protect the items on loan, and the status of the numerous loaned objects that did not return in time from abroad were regulated in accordance with the existing law. Overs sixteen thousand objects from the archaeological search on the premises of the former Birkenau camp dating back to half a century were recovered. We are constantly improving the protection and security measures at the Memorial, for which in the meantime we managed to acquire the space around the former camp slaughterhouse, the building of the Old Theatre or the so-called small potato storage at the Birkenau.
Huge changes have also been carried out in the structure of the Museum. A Press Office, Volunteers Bureau, or special section for methodology of guiding was created among others in the ICEAH. Given the record attendance, the reservation and visitor service systems were also reorganized.
The last decade was also a period of intensified building of dialogue between the Memorial and the entire world. The website of the Memorial was changed twice, and the audience count is more than 20 million page views per year. Profiles were also created on the most important social networking portals, among others Facebook (with over 225 thousand observers). The Museum publishing house has prepared dozens of new books and albums.
As the Museum’s director, Piotr M. A. Cywiński Ph.D. gave numerous lectures, speeches and presentations at universities and cultural institutions of various countries among others, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Monaco, Norway Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United States. In conversations with journalists, Piotr Cywiński focused on explaining the essence of the Memorial, its history, the impact of the tour on educational processes and the need to preserve authenticity.
One of the most important events of the decade was undoubtedly the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January 2015, which was attended by approx. 300 survivors and delegations from 48 countries. Audience rating of the live transmission on more than 250 television stations around the world exceeded half a billion viewers while more than 1 billion 750 million receivers read newspaper reports on the event. According to commentators, it was a commemoration of the greatest ever media coverage in the world.
In the last ten years, more than 13 million persons have visited the Memorial. Piotr Cywiński has accompanied and conducted tours around the Memorial to various illustrious guests, among others Presidents of several states, Prime Ministers, the UN Secretary General as well as numerous historians, researchers and professionals in the area of education, museology and memory. At the personal request of Pope Francis, director Cywiński welcomed him at the Gate of Death Birkenau. The number of visitors increased in the period 2006-2016, by more than double, and the annual budget of the Museum - tripled, despite adhering to the principle of free admission to the Memorial.
Piotr Cywiński while in office as director, wrote several books (among others four volumes - the fifth in print) of series “The Place of Truth", describing selected aspects of the history of Auschwitz through quotes from the accounts of the survivors, as well as a collection of essays “Epitaph". Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński is also the co-author of several other publications, among others the compendium "Auschwitz from A to Z".
Piotr Cywiński participated in the work of important committees namely: The International Auschwitz Council, the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom, the Board of Museums among others. He also works as an expert and advisor for various Museum centres in Poland and abroad.
Director Cywiński’s work was recognized with numerous awards and decorations, including the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Belgian Order of the Crown, Monaco’s Order of St. Charles, and the Greek Order of the Phoenix among others.
Piotr Cywiński Ph.D. is the fifth director since the creation of the Memorial on the premises of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 1947. Prior to Cywiński, the post was held by former prisoners Tadeusz Wąsowicz (1947-1952), Stefan Wiernik (1952-1955 ) and Kazimierz Smoleń (1955-1990) as well as Jerzy Wróblewski (1990-2006).
• Biography of Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński
• Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Reports
• Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation
Halina Birenbaum (Israel) - a survivor of the Holocaust, former female prisoner of Auschwitz (48693), writer, author of among others “Hope dies last"
I do not know if you were conscious of what amazing vastness you took upon yourself when you assumed the function of the director of the biggest posthumous Museum in the world - Auschwitz and After Auschwitz. The Memorial Museum of mass killing of people, concepts of moral values taught from the cradle to old age, in all aspects of life. Death of life! You studied this terrible disaster, factors that allowed for its existence, the murderous ideologies of hate, racism, politics and heartless - sadistic, but the most efficient technique of murder and looting, up to the human skin. You read in the documents and books; you listened to the voices of the survivors, starred at the rest of the remains, various kinds of traces, before you came here, and continue to do so. You still search for traces on the Earth and under the Earth of this hell; you sometimes fight against the destructive traces of these crimes; you write books about it during the long days and nights – until today, ten years by!
But, that is not all in this terrifying Auschwitz after Auschwitz, because the pain is still piercing the heart and souls of individuals, and hundreds of thousands of individuals, millions horribly exterminated here, their painful suffering, despair, tragedies, helplessness towards the most dreadful atrocities and torture. And the pain, longing, nightmarish dreams of survivors – their endless, unceasing memories, tears, plea for understanding; for them to be documented forever. And not to mention the numerous discussions with people from all over the world, persons who do not understand, deny - and with those who survived, who returned from the other world, the hell of Auschwitz, who are irritated by any bit of blundering words, standpoint, because he who is wounded feels pain in whatever position... I admire Your strength, I deeply appreciate Your devotion, Your untiring, stubborn efforts and their results that are so extremely valuable, important!
I thank you for it all, because Auschwitz and the "After Auschwitz" are also a big part of my so long life. I wish you and us the survivors that you may still stand for more than one decade at the head of the Auschwitz Memory for the understanding and education of further generations!
Zofia Posmysz (Poland) - former Auschwitz prisoner (7566), writer, author of among others, "The Passenger"
To this day, I remember the feeling that I experienced several years ago. Crossing once again Lagerstrasse in Birkenau, I saw people carrying out conservation works in one of the barracks. It was a feeling of relief and gratitude. Relief that something is actually being done to prevent this place from turning into ash, like that from human bodies that cover this soil, and a deep gratitude to the people who are rescuing this place. I am also thankful to their noble successors and to director Piotr Cywiński for the concern to preserve the authenticity of this place.
Creation of the Endownment Fund of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation deserves special admiration and acknowledgment. The international community is engaged in this project which effects are already visible.
I wish to give my thanks to the director and the staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for their care for the survivors during commemorative events as well as for gentle and yet clearly felt empathy. Finally I wish to thank director Cywiński for his beautiful, smart and uplifting speeches given during the anniversaries of liberation.
Kazimierz Albin (Poland) - former prisoner of KL Auschwitz (118), an escapee from the camp and author of the “Arrest warrant” among others
During his 10-years tenure as the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński has come to be recognized among the group of persons who dedicated their life to saving the memory of the tragic events in this extermination camp. He continued this work with an excellent team through preservation, educational, scientific, media and publishing activities etc. As the Museum’s director, Dr. Cywiński conducted lectures and presentations at universities in various countries. Interviews to journalists from around the world has become a rule. Throughout this period, I was a witness to his amazing accomplishments. With deepest respect and recognition
Serge Klarsfeld (France) - post-war Nazi-hunter, Holocaust historian, President of the Association of sons and daughters of Jewish deportees from France
I have known Piotr Cywiński for over ten years and I remember my delight when I found out that he was nominated as the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. I appreciate his culture and deep insight. I have always felt in harmony with him, as to the main options that had to be selected for this unique place: primarily, in terms of retaining Birkenau, as a place of recollection and meetings. Piotr Cywiński is competent in all areas of historical and technical information about Auschwitz. He is the most qualified person in the long-term perspective, to take care of the restoration and presentation of the Memorial, as well as the renewal of exhibitions, development of the pedagogical role of the Memorial and care for the growing number of visitors.
Avner Shalev (Israel) - the President of the Directorate of Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem
The occasion of your tenth anniversary as Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is a welcome opportunity for me to express my great admiration for your distinguished accomplishments at the helm of your institution. From the start of our relationship, it was clear that we share a bond of values, vision and commitment that transcends the differences between our distinct backgrounds and identities. As you and I know well, Holocaust remembrance is a mission of special universal significance, a mission requiring extensive historical knowledge, personal honesty and moral integrity. You are blessed with these valuable qualities, and have translated them effectively into a remarkable endeavor that has justly gained great acclaim - in your country and around the world. Time and again you have fought to ensure that Auschwitz-Birkenau remains a place of authentic and truthful testimony to its horrible past – into the present and future. This requires a rare skill for uncovering and presenting an accurate and nuanced Holocaust narrative, a unique story of human evil, extermination, survival and, sometimes - of hope. We have been privileged to practice and apply this skill together, in various contexts, including our close cooperation in the development of Yad Vashem's permanent _Shoah_ exhibition in Block 27.
Sarah Bloomfield (USA) - director United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum considers the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum as the most important Holocaust site in the world. It stands for all of humanity – and hopefully for all time—as the authentic place that not only witnessed, but also symbolizes, the systematic effort to eliminate European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its allies. The importance of Auschwitz as a place of memory and education for people from all over the world continues to grow and is vitally important in order to advance the shared mission of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Auschwitz Museum.
I first met Piotr Cywiński in 2006 when he visited Washington as the newly installed director of the Auschwitz Museum. I was surprised at how young he was. But quickly it became apparent that his knowledge, understanding and passion for Holocaust history were exceptional. In the years since then I have had the privilege to work closely with him on many projects and have seen that he also possesses the special vision and wisdom needed to lead this singular institution, especially at such a pivotal moment—a moment of inter-generational transfer—as the Holocaust recedes in time.
Leading an institution like Auschwitz requires courage tempered by humility, unique inter-personal skills, and a strong moral compass. Piotr has all this and more. He has significantly elevated the image and awareness of Auschwitz and has grown its visitation and impact substantially. But, as his impressive vision continues to advance the Auschwitz Museum, he has never forgotten that first and foremost he must be faithful to historical truth and to the sacred memory of the lives and deaths of the victims.
I am proud to call him my close partner, respected colleague and dear friend.