81st anniversary of deportation of the first Poles to KL Auschwitz – National Remembrance Day
14 June 1940 is considered the date when German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp began its functioning. On that day, the Germans deported from the prison in Tarnów to the Auschwitz camp the group of 728 Poles. Among them were soldiers of the September 1939 campaign, members of underground independence groups, high-school and university students, and a small group of Polish Jews. They received numbers 31 to 758.
Events commemorating the 81st anniversary of this event took place under the National Patronage of Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland as well as the Honorary Patronage of Prof. dr hab. Piotr Gliński, Minister of Culture, National Heritage and Sports. Upon the decision of the Polish Sejm, 14 June is commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance of German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps Victims.
The program of commemorative events was adapted to sanitary restrictions in force in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, commemorative events on a mass scale were impossible to organize. Symbolical commemoration took place at the Memorial.
Four camp survivors took part in the events commemorating the anniversary: Lucyna Adamkiewicz, Zdzisława Włodarczyk, Barbara Wojnarowska-Gautier and Bogdan Bartnikowski.
At Saint Maximilian Center in Harmęże, where the exhibition by Marian Kołodziej, former prisoner of the first transport number 423 entitled “Negatives of Memory. Labyrinths” is presented, ceremonial Holy Mass was celebrated by by Bishop Ordinary Roman Pindel of the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese.
Karl Fritzsch, who welcomed this first transport of prisoners, distinguished Jews and clergymen from all arriving, when he spoke about this new place and possible prospects for them. He said: “You came here not to a spa, but to a German concentration camp, from which there is no other way out than through a chimney. If someone does not like it, they can go on the fence. If there are Jews in the transport, they have the right to live no longer than two weeks, priests a month, and the rest - three months,” he said.
“In this place of worship we remember and pray for the huge number of victims of the planned extermination carried out from the first days of World War II,” emphasized Bishop Pindel.
At 12.00, symbolical commemoration took place within the site of former Auschwitz I camp. The Survivors, delegations of state authorities led by Professor Piotr Gliński, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Culture, National Heritage and Sport as well as representatives of local authorities, clergy and the organizers of the event walked from the “Arbeit macht frei” gate to Block 11, in front of which the Polish national anthem was played.
During his speech, Deputy Prime Minister Professor Piotr Gliński said: “The decision-makers of Nazi Germany, planning the camp infrastructure in the second half of 1940 - the installation of a cremation furnace with a daily capacity to incinerate 100 human bodies, and another similar furnace, installed a few months later - and then imposing senseless, painful rigors on the prisoners’ daily lives, assumed that the concentration camp for Poles was to become a place of extermination on a scale previously unknown in all camps operating in the Third Reich.”
According to the Deputy Prime Minister, it is extremely important that we uphold the memory of what happened on the inhuman Auschwitz soil, about all those who went through the hell of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camps. “I would like to thank all of you, dear guardians of remembrance and the employees of Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, as well as the employees of the newly created Remembrance Museum of the Land of Oświęcim Residents and all other places of remembrance of the German genocide, for your constant and uninterrupted work to preserve the memory of these places. For preserving and disseminating this painful legacy.”
At the end of the commemoration events, participants laid candles and wreaths at the Death Wall in the courtyard of Block 11.
One of the projects carried out in connection with the anniversary consisted in preparing the video version of the book “Początki Auschwitz w pamięci pierwszego transportu polskich więźniów politycznych” (Early days of Auschwitz in the memory of the first transport of Polish political prisoners) by Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Museum. In this publication, fragments of the accounts of survivors were presented in seven chapters forming a smoothly told story of 728 men deported to Auschwitz from Tarnów. Students from all over Poland took part in the project. Fragments of the accounts were also read by Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Dr. hab Piotr Gliński, Minister Wojciech Kolarski from the Chancellery of the President as well as the author of the book, Dr. Piotr Cywiński.
On the day of the anniversary and especially for this occasion, official inauguration of the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away” prepared by the Auschwitz Memorial and Spanish Musealia company is going to take place in Kansas City in the USA. The exposition, presented before in Madrid and New York City, was awarded with the Grand Prix of the European Heritage Award / Europa Nostra 2020 Award. It is the most prestigious European distinction in the field of heritage.
On June 14th, the anniversary was also commemorated under the plaque devoted to the first transport on the building of former Polish Tobacco Monopoly, in the vicinity of current Auschwitz Memorial site. This is where on 14 June 1940, the SS men placed the prisoners for the period of quarantine, and today, it is the seat of the Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki State University of Małopolska in Oświęcim.
Numerous events, in particular exhibitions, have been taking place online. You can find them on the special website: 14June.auschwitz.org.