A new perspective for education at the Memorial. Adaptation work has been completed at the new seat of the Education Center.
The project for the conversion of the historical building of the so-called Old Theatre into the new seat of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust was officially completed on 3 October after several years of efforts and more than two years of construction and conservation work.
The new headquarters will house among others, a modern auditorium for nearly 200 people, multimedia lecture halls, an exhibition space, a library with a reading room, and work stations for independent research work.
The ceremonial presentation of the building was attended by Paulina Florianowicz, director of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, representatives of the Council of the ICEAH, management and employees of the Auschwitz Museum, representatives of the design and conversion contractors and many others. Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, the head of the Research Center of the Auschwitz Memorial, gave a lecture on the history of the building.
‘The new building is a perfect illustration of the message written by survivors and former prisoners of Auschwitz on the pages of the 2005 ICEAH Act of Foundation, as well as our educational triad - Remembrance, Awareness, Responsibility. These words guide us now and will continue to guide our activities in the future,” said Andrzej Kacorzyk, the director of the International Centrer for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
‘Remembrance is embodied in authentic historical elements visible in the entire building. The perspective of barbed wire, the death block, and other prisoner barracks will not lead to the loss of Awareness regarding the events that transpired in Auschwitz. We want to demonstrate responsibility through our work and projects aimed at changing those who will visit us. We want to share our concern for our contemporary society responsibly. We want to stimulate to action, draw attention to the need to react to evil, violence, hatred, antisemitism, prejudice, and intolerance,’ emphasized Andrzej Kacorzyk.
The deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Piotr Gliński, addressed the director of the Auschwitz Museum and all employees of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust in a special letter: “I would like to offer my sincere thanks to you for your commitment to the mission of preserving memory, deepening and transferring knowledge in order to protect the world from the mechanisms of hatred and contempt for fellow humans. Today, we need preachers of truth who can prevent new threats through the spirit of cooperation”.
“I wish you success in this endeavor, which will be facilitated by the new and modern infrastructure for educational, methodological, study, volunteer, and exhibition projects. According to the Act of Foundation of the Centre for Education: At the site of this atrocity, pensiveness must give way to responsibility,” deputy Prime Minister Gliński wrote.
‘Many people have contributed so much to make this project come to fruition, and it’s only just the beginning. We do not know what the world will look like in 10 years, but we do know that the possibilities will exceed our responsibility,’ said Auschwitz Museum Director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.
‘Two years ago, genocide was committed in Burma, where 50,000 people were murdered, and more than half a million fled to Bangladesh. A little over 20 years ago, during the genocide in Rwanda, many protesting voices said there was not enough reaction. In the case of Burma, these voices were not heard at all. We are heading in the wrong direction, and when we wake up from the lethargy, it will be too late. The only chance and way out is education. Auschwitz is one of the most significant and unquestionable reference points for the entire world,’ he added.
The decision to fund the project was taken on 21 July 2016 by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Piotr Gliński. The project received funding from the European Union within the framework of priority axis VIII Protection of Cultural Heritage and Development of Cultural Resources under the Operational Programme Infrastructure and Environment for the period 2014-2020. Its total cost is over PLN 30 million. EU support amounted to over 20 million.
The presentation of the new headquarters was followed by a meeting of the Council of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, presided over by Prof. Marek Kucia.
During the meeting, Andrzej Kacorzyk, the director of the ICEAH, presented a report summarising the activities of the Center from October last year, following the previous meeting of the Council.
‘Naturally, the most important event for us is the creation of the new headquarters, which we present to you today. We will move into the new building at the beginning of next year. What is important is that the first guests at the new headquarters were a group of 12 former Auschwitz prisoners, who we recently hosted at the Memorial as part of an educational project. They were mostly people deported to Auschwitz as children from the Warsaw Uprising. The number of visitors is also growing. All evidence indicates that the number of visitors in 2019 will be higher than last year when 2.152 million people visited the Memorial. For this reason, it was crucial to raise over 20 million PLN for the development of the planned new Visitor Service Centre,’ said Andrzej Kacorzyk.
A particularly important event for the ICEAH recently was the international educational conference “Auschwitz - Never Again! - Really?” The lectures and discussions focused on education in the context of counteracting genocide and crimes against humanity. A summary of the conference can be found in the special August issue of the Memoria magazine.
The meeting also addressed the challenges faced by the 342 educators of the Memorial Site, who already guide visitors in 21 languages, as well as conferences, seminars and educational sessions for teachers, police officers and journalists, as well as for officers of the Prison Services. It also covered exhibitions that were presented at the Memorial, such as the exhibition of works by David Olère, a former Sonderkommando prisoner in Auschwitz, as well as in many places around the world; interns and volunteers; and new lessons prepared as part of E-learning, among others.
Director Kacorzyk mentioned the development of the visitor service system, recruitment and training for guides, organisation of a special study visit for teachers from Japan, as well as English-language studies on the history of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, the “Sonderkommando” exhibition prepared on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the prisoners’ revolt in Birkenau, and a conference dedicated specifically to coordinators of volunteer work, among others.
The International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust was founded in 2005 and is an integral part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. It deals with the teaching of the history of the Holocaust and the Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. It teaches about the tragic fate of Jews, Poles, the Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and the fate of all other groups of victims detained and murdered in Auschwitz.
In 2016, the following persons were appointed to the Council of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust:
• Prof. Marek Kucia of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków – Chairperson
• doc. dr Vojtěch Blodig, deputy director of the Terezín Memorial - Deputy Chairperson
• Dr Wolf Kaiser, former director of the Wannsee Conference House in Berlin
• Prof. Danuta Konieczka-Śliwińska, deputy director for teaching at the Institute of History Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań
• Olivier Lalieu from Memorial de la Shoah in Paris
• Dr Piotr Paziński, writer, editor-in-Chief of the monthly “Midrash”
• Karen Pollock, director of the Holocaust Educational Trust
• Dr Irina Scherbakova, from the Memorial Society in Moscow
• Jacek Stawiski, head of the Świat editorial team at the television channel TVN24 Business and the World.
• Prof. Dariusz Stola, director of the POLIN Museum