33rd session of the International Auschwitz Council
Events related to the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, summary of activities of the IAC in its six years of office, and analysis of the challenges facing Memorial Sites located in Poland were some of the topics of the 33rd session of the International Auschwitz Council, which was held at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister in Warsaw on 13 November, presided by Prof. Barbara Engelking. The Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Jarosław Sellin attended the meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, the director of the Auschwitz Museum, Dr Piotr M. A. Cywiński summed up the most important activities in the Auschwitz Memorial, which had taken place since the last meeting of the Council.
He spoke about the persistent high attendance (as it indicates that the number of visitors in 2017 will be close or higher than previous year’s record), the major conservation works, including those conducted in the two brick barracks on the site of the former Birkenau camp, and the commencement of works on the construction of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust in the building of the so-called Old Theatre. The completion of the latter project financed by the European Union and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is scheduled for mid-2019.
Director Cywiński also mentioned among others, events related to the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Museum on the premises of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. The events included the international methodological conference “Awareness - Responsibility – Future”, and the exhibition “Face to Face. Art in Auschwitz” created in collaboration with the National Museum in Cracow, or the documentary film dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Memorial co-produced with the Cracow branch of Polish Television.
Director Cywiński also presented the new online monthly “Memoria”, published by the Museum in Polish and English. ‘It is not only devoted to issues related to the history of Auschwitz. We want the subject matter of the magazine to address the most interesting and important issues from around the world related to the memory of other camps, as well as more generally about the Holocaust and other areas of the tragedy of the second world war. I hope it will be a magazine for the exchange of experience for our entire community,’ said director Cywiński.
He also mentioned a series of documentary films, “Escapes through barbed wires” directed by Andrzej Celiński, dedicated to the subject of escapes from the Auschwitz camp, which is produced in collaboration with Polish Television, as well as the digitisation and online accessibility of all editions of the “Medical Review” implemented by the Cracow Medical Society, whose partner was the Museum.
He also discussed the issue of the complex development of the Museum’s security system, notably regarding the protection of the site of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp.
During the session, the participants also discussed the major challenges facing other Memorials situated in Poland on the sites of former German Nazi concentration and extermination camps. Minister Jarosław Sellin spoke on the issue.
- In two days, an exhibition will be inaugurated in Cracow, dedicated to KL Plaszow. Our efforts, along with the authorities of Cracow and the Historical Museum of Cracow, are already yielding the first results. Thanks to archaeological research we have several thousand artefacts. Soon, KL Plaszow will have a worthy and appropriate site of commemoration,’ said minister Sellin.
‘Another important site is Treblinka, a place that can be referred to as the largest Polish cemetery of the second world war. It is a place, which beginning next year will be co-managed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The third site is Sobibór. We have concluded meetings with representatives of four states, during which we discussed the content of the exhibition that will be presented at the Museum in Sobibór. Works at the site have intensified. The site of the mass graves has already been secured in accordance with the guidelines of the Chief Rabbi of Poland. A museum building will also be erected, and there are already plans related to the exposition of the relics of the gas chambers,’ stressed Jarosław Sellin.
He also spoke about the future of the Central Museum of Prisoners-of-War in Łambinowice-Opole, about the project of a museum commemorating residents of Oświęcim, about the new exhibition in the Jewish Cultural Institute, as well as the ongoing commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Operation Reinhardt.
The directors of Memorial Sites also contributed to the discussion: Piotr M. A. Cywiński of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, spoke of the most important investment projects implemented and planned for the coming years, among others the New Main Exhibition, new headquarters of the ICEAH, Visitors Service Centre, or plans related to the Collections, Archives and camp art collections; Tomasz Kranz of the State Museum at Majdanek spoke, among others of the development of educational activities, modernization of infrastructure and conservation plans at Majdanek, challenges related to the protection of the monument and renovation of the former building of the camp commander in Belzec, as well as archaeological discoveries and the implementation of a new commemoration in Sobibor.
Edward Kopówka of the Museum in Treblinka spoke of the challenges facing the new museum there, as the existing branch of the Regional Museum in Siedlce will soon be transformed into an independent Museum - A Memorial at the former German extermination and labour camp in Treblinka. Anna Ziółkowska of the Martyrological Museum in Żabikowo presented plans for the area of the former Kulmhof camp in Chełmno upon Ner related to the future protection, conservation and exposition of the palace ruins, conservation of the monument on the grounds of the Rzuchowski Forest, development of infrastructure for visitors and a new permanent exhibition, among others.
Piotr Tarnowski of the Stutthof Museum talked about plans to create a new permanent exhibition on the premises of the former Stutthof camp and educational programmes related to these changes, work of the guides and publishing houses, as well as the concept of the new Museum of Piaśnica. Janusz Barszcz of the Gross-Rosen Museum, who oversees the premises of the former camp and the adjacent quarry - the work site of the prisoners - spoke, among others about eleven conservation projects related to the preservation of the former camp relics.
One of the agenda items was the summary of the activities of the current term of office of the International Auschwitz Council before the last meeting scheduled for spring 2018. The major activities of the Council in the last 6 years was recounted by the IAC secretary Marek Zając, who also recalled the beginning of its operation. ‘Władysław Bartoszewski played a crucial role in the formation of the Council. Were it not for Bartoszewski, a man trusted by various communities around the world, it would not have been possible to create this council,’ said Marek Zając.
‘To date, the major objectives of the Council and its fundamental issue have remained unchanged - its existence makes sense only when it has full independence and, is a reflection of diverse backgrounds through its members. The Council’s operation model based on international dialogue started to function as a model for dissemination in other areas; in other Memorial Sites, and at other levels. It is the only path to a genuine concern for the sites where representatives of various nations and religions were murdered. It is the best way to care for the former extermination camps which after the war were situated in Poland, and which ought to be a subject of international concern,’ Marek Zając stressed, recollecting the involvement of the IAC in the recent situation on the premises of the former German Nazi camps in Płaszów and Gusen.
He recalled that the IAC is not only concerned about the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau but also cares for issues related to Memorials of former German concentration and extermination camps, which today are situated in the territory of Poland. Marek Zając emphasised the importance of the April meeting of experts from all over the world, including the representatives of UNESCO, in Wannsee (Berlin). During the meeting, the experts worked out a memorandum, pointing to the unique role of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial as a model for other former camps. They also acknowledged that the rules of UNESCO and the rules developed by the International Auschwitz Council should be applied at other Memorial Sites in Europe.
The memorandum contains recommendations on the principles of preserving authenticity, integrity of artefacts and archival collections from a particular memorial site, execution of conservation works, international cooperation, including the creation of truly international advisory bodies made up of experts from various disciplines, as well as development of educational activities and performance of scientific research on both the fate of the victims of these sites and perpetrators of the crime.
The Council also adopted two resolutions:
“The International Auschwitz Council by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland wishes to firmly protest against the defamatory attacks aimed at the good name of the late Władysław Bartoszewski, the principal architect and long-standing chairperson of the Council. The falsification and ridicule of the suffering of a prisoner is, in fact, a disgraceful attack on the memory of all the victims of the German Auschwitz camp. In matters of Auschwitz, every lie affects the post-war moral order of the world.”
“The International Auschwitz Council observes with great concern the resurgence of antisemitic and racist attitudes, as well as the incursion of hate speech and aggressive nationalism into public space. Being aware of the tragic history of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are no doubts as to where it may lead to. Thus, we appeal to European governments for a decisive response and effective counter-measures”.