31st session of the International Auschwitz Council
The visit of Pope Francis and the huge turnout during the World Youth Day, the commencement of work on the new headquarters of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, issues of commemoration on the sites of the former concentration camps and extermination centers in Kulmhof, Treblinka, Sobibor, and Plaszów, as well as education about the Holocaust in the Polish school system, were some of the topics discussed during the 31st session of the International Auschwitz Council, which was held in the Chancellery of the Prime Ministers in Warsaw on 26 and 27 October, chaired by Prof. Barbara Engelking. Also in attendance was the deputy minister of culture and national heritage, Jarosław Sellin and the deputy minister of national education, Maciej Kopeć.
In the course of the meeting, the Museum director Dr Piotr M. A. Cywiński summed up the most important activities in the Auschwitz Memorial, which have taken place since the last session of the Council. He spoke among others of the increasing attendance at the Auschwitz Memorial, which was visited last year by 1.72 million people, and that this year the number will certainly be exceeded. The most important event in 2016 was the visit of more than 155 thousand pilgrims of the World Youth Day, who visited the Memorial within 10 days. It was the biggest logistics challenge in the nearly 70-year history of the Museum. A special moment during the WYD was the visit of Pope Francis to the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp on July 29, where he met with former prisoners and Polish Righteous Among the Nations.
Piotr Cywiński also spoke about the important events that took place in the Museum in recent times: the anniversary of the death of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the anniversary of the arrival of the Soviet prisoners of war, as well as official visits to the Memorial. He also mentioned the original camp letters of Mykola Kłymyszyn, which have been donated to the Archives of the Memorial, new publications of the Museum - among others, two publications devoted to Polish attorneys and officers of the Polish Army in KL Auschwitz.
He also spoke about the progress of work on the new main exhibition, which is in line with the timetable, as well as preservation works related among others with financial support from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and implementation of the Master Plan for Preservation. They focus primarily on the conservation of two brick barracks in Birkenau, as well as on securing one of the walls of the ruins of the undressing room of the gas chamber and crematorium III.
Minister Jarosław Sellin presented members of the IAC with information about the status of work on institutional transformations, and the creation of new commemorations in other former German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers: in Treblinka, which is to become a Museum co-organized by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Mazowiecki provincial government, in Sobibor, where international works are ongoing to prepare new forms of commemoration and on the site of the former camp in Płaszów which in the near future will be secured and commemorated. As pointed out by minister Sellin, the goal of the Polish Government is to take responsibility or co-responsibility for all places of martyrdom situated in today's Polish territory. During the discussion, members of the IAC also raised issues related to commemoration on the site of the former concentration camp in Gross-Rosen, as well as the gradual fading away of traces at the former concentration camp in Gusen, Austria.
The deputy minister of national education, Maciej Kopeć and Robert Szuchta spoke on the presence of the subject of Holocaust in the Polish education system. In turn, the director of the ICEAH, Andrzej Kacorzyk spoke on activities implemented by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. In his presentation, he stressed that soon education at the Memorial will take a new beginning, and this is because by mid-2019 work would have been completed in adapting the Old Theatre building to the headquarters of the ICEAH. The work is financed from the funds of the European Union and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. He also said that the deputy prime minister and minister of culture and national heritage, Prof. Piotr Gliński signed an agreement for the funding of the project on September 15.
The session was also attended by a delegation from the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, which is preparing a project of the new Austrian national exhibition at the Auschwitz Memorial. Members of the IAC discussed certain elements of the design of the planned exhibition.
On the second day of the session, the members of the IAC visited the site of the former German extermination center in Treblinka.