14 June - National Remembrance Day for Victims of the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps
On 14 June 1940, the Germans deported a group of 728 Poles from the prison in Tarnów to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Among the deportees were soldiers of the September 1939 campaign, members of the independence underground organizations, school pupils and students, as well as a small group of Polish Jews. This date is considered the onset of the camp’s operation. Subject to the Polish Parliament’s decision, 14 June is commemorated as the National Remembrance Day for Victims of the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps.
The commemoration of the 77th anniversary of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz, which took place in Oswiecim and Harmężę was attended by former prisoner Zdzisława Włodarczyk, representatives of the Polish government: The Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński, as well as parliamentarians, representatives of the diplomatic corps, local authorities, institutions and associations co-organizing the event, the management and staff of the Auschwitz Museum and all who wished to commemorate the events of 14 June 1940.
The anniversary began with the placing of candles at the Death Wall in the courtyard of Block 11 of the former Auschwitz I camp and wreaths at the memorial plaque dedicated to the first transport at the building of the former Polish Tobacco Monopoly, near the site of today’s Auschwitz Museum. On 14 June 1940, prisoners were placed there for the quarantine period, and today it houses the Witold Pilecki State Higher Vocational School in Oświęcim.
The main part of the commemoration took place at the building so-called Lagerhaus, which was used during the war as a warehouse by the SS. Recently, the Governor of Małopolska transferred it to the Oswiecim county as donation. The Starost’s Office plans to use it as a museum dedicated to Polish residents of surrounding towns who provided aid to the Auschwitz prisoners during the war. Some of them were also involved in the activities of the camp resistance movement. A special letter of intent in this regard was signed by the Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Piotr Gliński and the Starost of Oswiecim Zbigniew Starzec.
“The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is a place sanctified by the blood of over a million innocent victims, people whose families and loved ones have been left with an emptiness in their hearts. However, their memory is still present in history and in our hearts. We remember them, and we will remember forever. The National Remembrance Day for Victims of the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination camp commemorated today particularly reminds us of the individual fates and tragic part of the history of our country,” said Prime Minister Beata Szydło, who emphasized that while mourning the victims, we should also remember the courage of those who with dedication and risking their lives and those of their families provided help to the victims.
“We cannot forget the brave residents of the neighbouring towns and villages, who shared bread with the prisoners in the hope of a better tomorrow. They stood shoulder to shoulder in saving the lives of others. They paid no attention to political sympathies, ideological views or religion. The most important for them was man and his fate. These facts need to be shown, because those dark times were not lacking in people of goodwill and today, we want to honour them,” added Beata Szydło.
“A mature national community is distinguished by the fact that it remembers. It remembers important events in its history, in particular, difficult times, times of trial, times of important human choices and often great dramatic decisions. We remember because memory determines our identity, the fates of our community and chances - including the contemporary and future,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Piotr Gliński.
“The world of Auschwitz deprives us of hope, leaves us with questions about the sense and purpose of existence. The image of the sacrifice of the neighbours of Auschwitz restores hope in man and places the surrounding Samaritans in antithesis to the entire Nazi German extermination plan, as well as its executors,” stressed Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński, who declared the full support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for the new joint institution.
An exhibition of works by the prisoner of the first transport no. 423, Marian Kołodziej titled “Memory Clichés. Labirynths", was visited at the St. Maximilian Centre in Harmęże, where a Holy Mass commemorating the event was celebrated by Bishop Roman Pindel, Bishop of the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec. After the mass, the guests visited the exhibition. Then, the names of the prisoners of the first transport were read.
On the 77th anniversary, a special outdoor exhibition was made available at the entrance to the Auschwitz Museum titled “Since 14.VI, I have been imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp...” which presents a collection of 21 camp letters sent from Auschwitz by a prisoner of the first transport, Tadeusz Korczowski (camp no. 373) donated by his family to the Memorial.
“On this day, as we remember the first Poles deported to Auschwitz, we should also remember the importance of every camp letter, every document, every personal item associated with the camp. It is thanks to them that we can, in addition to learning the history of the Auschwitz machine, learn about the fate of particular persons. As we see, even after 77 years we still receive new documents related to the prisoners of the 14 June 1940 transport. I am very grateful to the family for the decision to donate this unique collection of letters to the Memorial. These documents should remain here,” said Museum Director, Dr Piotr M. A. Cywiński.
After the aggression of Nazi Germany against Poland, Tadeusz Korczowski (born 1914) took part in the defensive war, and devoted himself to conspiratorial activities. On 1 May 1940, he was arrested by the Germans in Rzeszów along with his six years younger brother Jerzy, and imprisoned in the Castle in Rzeszów. On 9 May 1940, both brothers and other arrested persons were transferred to the prison in Tarnów. On 14 June 1940, they were both transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where Tadeusz received camp number 373, and his brother Jerzy number 625. Both brothers were released from Auschwitz in October 1941.
Tadeusz Korczowski, after staying in the prisons in Cracow and Katowice was referred to forced labour in agriculture to Germany in the area of Hannover. In April 1942, he was released due to ill health; he returned to Rzeszów and again became involved in the activities of the resistance movement, joining the Home Army.
After the war ended in 1945, Tadeusz Korczowski was arrested by the communist secret police and until January 1946 was held in prisons in Rzeszów, Cracow, Bytom, Warsaw, Łódź, Poznan and Rawicz. He was released in early 1946.
The organizer of the commemoration is the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the:
• Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświecim
• St. Maximilian Centre in Harmęże
• Jewish Centre in Oswięcim
• Foundation of Memorial Sites Near Auschwitz-Birkenau
• Foundation for the Hospice - Memorial to the City of Oświęcim
• Institute of National Remembrance, Cracow Branch
• Diocesan Curia of Bielsko-Żywiec
• International Youth Meeting Centre in Oświęcim
• Witold Pilecki State Higher Vocational School in Oświęcim
• Province of St. Anthony and blessed Jakub Strzemię of The Order Of Friars Minor Conventual (Franciscans)
• Auschwitz Memento Association
• Association of Roma in Poland
• Society for the Preservation and Maintenance Oświecim
• Municipality of Oświęcim
• City of Oświęcim
• City of Tarnów
• County Office in Oświęcim