“432. Marian Kołodziej. Magister vitae" — educational session
An educational session devoted to the life and work of former Auschwitz prisoner Marian Kołodziej, one of the leading Polish theatre set designers after World War II, was held on 2 October 2013. It was organised by the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust and the St Maximilian Kolbe Centre in Harmęże, which presents an exhibition of the work of Marian Kołodziej entitled “Klisze Pamięci”.
The conference was attended by over 130 individuals: teachers, Franciscan monks and gymnasium and post-gymnasium students. An exceptional moment of the meeting was the appearance of Halina Słojewska-Kołodziej and the actress Zofia Kucówna, who shared their memories of the private life of Marian Kołodziej and his theatre-film work with the participants.
“For 50 year, Kołodziej did not speak about the camp. He lived for the beauty of the theatre, art and life. It was only when he became very ill and was paralyzed on the right side of his body, and the doctor told him to rehabilitate his hand,” said Halina Słojewska-Kołodziej, the artist’s widow. “Afterward, Marian Kołodziej attached tiny pencils to his fingers and tried to draw on tiny pieces of paper. Then it came back to him what Herbert said: “You didn’t survive only to live. You have little time, you need to provide a testimony”, added Słojewska-Kołodziej.
A lecture on the post-war creations and theatre-film work of Marian Kołodziej was given by Małgorzata Abramowicz. “Marian Kołodziej found in his illness a great strength, which derived from art and from what was in him, the great artist,” said Wojciech Bonisławski, director of the National Museum Gdańsk, who presented a new publication entitled “Marian Kołodziej. Magister Vitae”.
The last point of the conference was a screening of a film entitled “The Labyrinth” by Jason Schmidt.
Former prisoner of KL Auschwitz (camp no. 432). Born on 6 December 1921 in Raszków. As a young patriot, he became involved during the course of the war in the activities of the ZWZ, while also preparing to cross the border illegally. On 14 May 1940, he was arrested in Kraków and imprisoned in Montelupich, then later transferred to the prison in Tarnów.
On 14 June 1940, he was brought on the first transport to KL Auschwitz. In the camp, he was assigned to various commandos: Abbruchkommando, Kiesgrubekommando, Strassenkommando, Industriehof II-Bauhof. In the Wasserkommando, he became ill and was transferred to the sub-camp of Blechhammer in Świętochłowice, where he made clandestine copies of the plans of the armaments factory for the resistance movement. For this activity, he was sentenced to death, once again transferred to Auschwitz and imprisoned in the bunker of block 11. He survived in the camp until the end of 1944, from where, during the evacuations, he was transferred to Gross Rosen then to Buchenwald. In February 1945, he was deported to Mauthausen, where he was liberated on 6 May 1945.
After returning to Poland, he began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków in the faculty of painting, from which he graduated in 1950 with a specialisation in scenography. In pursuing his artistic career, he took a job in the “Wybrzeże” theatre in Gdańsk as a set designer. He also collaborated with other theatres in the country and abroad, as well as in the realisation of feature films. In his painting work as a set designer, he never returned to the experience of the camp.
It was not until nearly fifty years later, and after a history of serious illness, that he returned to his dramatic, youthful years in the concentration camps, creating a series of works presented in the exhibition “Klisze pamięci”. In exhibitions after the first public presentation in April 1995 in the presbytery of the Holy Trinity Church in Gdańsk, and then in 1996 in Essen, Germany, he made use of the themes from his drawings from 1945. From January 1998, the artist’s memoirs, written in an artistic form, make up permanent exhibition situated in the lower level of the Church of the St Maximilian Kolbe Centre at the Franciscan monastery in Harmęże near Oświęcim. He died on 13 October 2009 in Gdańsk.