An international consensus built around the importance and history of Auschwitz. 34th session of the IAC
The summary of the 2012-2018 term of office of the International Auschwitz Council and the report on the work of the Auschwitz Museum in recent years, were some of the topics of the 34th session of the International Auschwitz Council, which was held in Auschwitz, 7 and 8 May 2018, chaired by Prof. Barbara Engelking. The meeting was attended by the deputy minister of culture and national heritage, Jarosław Sellin, who read a letter from Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Piotr Gliński addressed to members of the IAC.
“I ask all members of the International Auschwitz Council to accept the assurance of my highest consideration and recognition for their commitment in the accomplishment of the Council’s tasks throughout its entire term of office. Especially, in the area of protection and development of the sites of the former Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz and other Holocaust Memorials. For your concern and sensitivity to this painful legacy, for your uncompromising attitude, and for not allowing the problems of the Holocaust and martyrdom of the nations to become commonplace; for these wounds must be torn so that, as Stefan Żeromski said, ‘this memory is not forgotten, thank you very much” - wrote Prof. Piotr Gliński, the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland and Minister of Culture and National Heritage.
“I also wish to thank all the directors, employees of martyrdom museums, experts, social activists who work tirelessly with dedication to documenting and educating about the truth of the Holocaust. In February, the ministry of culture issued a statement in which it expressed its unequivocal opposition to the dissemination of slander, lies and hateful content addressed to persons committed to the care of Memorial Sites on the grounds of former concentration and extermination camps. I wish to strongly re-affirm that it is a position I still uphold” - Prof. Gliński stressed in his letter.
During the session, minister Sellin said that the concentration camps created by the Germans are located on the territories of five contemporary states, but the former extermination centres are located on the territory of the Polish state. 'These are places where every sensitive, young person may contemplate about what is good and what is evil - including personal evil - what is love and hate; if God exists or not. In these places, we ask these questions with particular intensity,' said Minister Jarosław Sellin.
'I assure you that the Polish state will ensure that these places commemorate and induce not only historical reflection but also moral reflection on the human condition,' emphasized Minister Sellin, who also summed up the activities of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage related to preserving the Holocaust memory - not just at Memorial Sites on the grounds of former camps, but also through new institutions, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, or financial support for the preservation of the Warsaw Jewish cemetery, among others.
During the meeting, the Museum director Piotr M.A. Cywiński, PhD summed up the most important activities in the Auschwitz Memorial, which had taken place since the last meeting of the Council.
Attendance at the Memorial is still very high. In 2017, it was visited by 2.1 million people. 'The steady growth over the past dozen or so years is the result of an international consensus built around the significance and history of Auschwitz, as well as the role of Auschwitz in building a post-war Europe and the world. The majority of visitors are young people who visit as part of educational programs. It means that in several dozen countries, major educational programmes and travel subsidy programmes have been created in the last dozen or so years. These programmes would not have been created without a consensus as to the importance of the Memorial. It is worth emphasizing that these programmes were primarily created within the circles of the International Auschwitz Council,' said director Cywiński.
He also stressed that due to the steady number of visitors it is important to expand the infrastructure for serving visitors associated with the new Visitors Service Centre. The Museum plans to raise funds for the creation of the Centre from the Norwegian Grants.
The director also spoke of the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away”. It is the largest of such exhibition devoted to the subject of Auschwitz and the Holocaust in history. Over 600 original objects are presented on an area of approximately 2,500 square meters, obtained mainly from the Auschwitz Museum Collections, and other museums and institutions, including the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Holocaust museums in North America and Europe, as well as from private collections of Holocaust survivors.
The Museum director also shed light on recent major events at the Museum, namely the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz - including the publication of articles related to the anniversary in several European newspapers, posing important questions regarding the present in the context of Auschwitz, the March of the Living with the participation of the Presidents of Poland and Israel, the 30th anniversary of cooperation with the Volkswagen group and the International Auschwitz Committee, two temporary exhibitions - an exhibition of archival documents from the collection of Właydysław Rath, and an exhibition on the role of the German police in the Third Reich.
Director Cywiński also talked about the progress of the project for the adaptation of the Old Theatre building to the new headquarters of the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust - a project financed by the European Union, as well as conservation works conducted at the brick barracks of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, financed by the Auschwitz Birkenau Foundation.
During his report, the director also talked about the creation of the Centre for Research on the Economics of Memorial Sites at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (SWPS), which is to conduct scientific research in the scope of economics, finance and management of the proper establishment, functioning and preservation of memorial sites.
Piotr Cywiński also presented two new publications of the Museum: “Little white house. History of extermination in bunker II”, as well as “I am in the very heart of hell. Notes of the SonderKommando prisoner” Załmen Gradowski, two new on-line lessons, “Extermination of Jews in KL Auschwitz” as well as a preparatory lesson for visit to the Memorial. He also recalled the gold medal for the film “Escape through wires” at the New York Film Festival and TV Award.
The director also gave a summary of how the Museum has developed - its structure and activities over the last 12 years - and recalled the most important events of this period.
Given that the session was the last meeting of the IAC in the 2012-2018 term of office, the Council members discussed recommendations for the successors regarding the general and detailed direction of actions for the IAC, as well as the fundamental principles and values that should guide the Council. The list of recommendations shall be forwarded to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, whose advisory body is the International Auschwitz Council.
Non-involvement in ongoing politics, knowledge and expertise, as well as the international authority of members of the council, independence and underlining the international importance of the IAC, readiness to conduct dialogue on difficult, complicated and inconvenient issues, but also the ability to seek compromise and understanding; preserving memory and representing all the victims of Auschwitz, the importance of looking at the issues of memory in a long term perspective, supporting the activities and development of all Memorial Sites in Poland and beyond, as well as developing good practices that could benefit other similar memorials - were some of the issues raised during the discussion on the tasks and recommendations for the International Auschwitz Council in the future.
'This council has acquired an opinion-forming status that goes beyond internal Polish affairs and beyond issues of the most important Memorials in Poland. This council has in the last dozen or so years received growing international recognition and authority, with a great ability to engage in dialogue and debate on very difficult subjects,' said director of the Auschwitz Museum Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.
'These elements have helped to strengthen the global constants around this place, the memory of those victims and those people. It is something that requires the greatest protection for the future, regardless of issues that will be discussed in the future. The development of the Memorial that I presented would not have been possible without this field of mutual understanding between different groups, countries, opinions or viewpoints,' Piotr Cywiński emphasized.
The IAC members also discussed topics the amendment to the Act on National Memorial Institute, as well as plans for a museum dedicated to the residents of Oświęcim and the surrounding area who provided help to prisoners of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, during the war.