Inaugural meeting of the third term of the International Auschwitz Council
Prime Minister Donald Tusk presented the nominations of the members of the International Auschwitz Council in Warsaw. The inaugural meeting of the third term of the IAC took place on 10 September in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. The meeting was chaired by Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski. The new vice presidents of the IAC are: Dr Barbara Engelking and Avner Shalev. Marek Zając was reappointed as a secretary of the Council.
“It requires unusual determination to encourage — in an involved, serious and responsible manner — the people of today in all countries of the world to remember about the things that they would most willingly forget. The horrors of World War II, and particularly the nightmare of the concentration camps and the Holocaust, are things that still do not fit in the hearts and minds of people. This is why your work is important because when it can not fit in the minds and hearts, it can be forgotten,” said the Prime Minister.
“Our effort makes sense when it is a part of the effort of all humanity but we know that nothing releases the public authorities in Poland from the particular determination to make the memory about these years a durable and forever audible warning with respect to the worst aspects of human nature,” stressed Donald Tusk.
In addition to the Prime Minister, the meeting was attended, among others, by the deputy ministers of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Małgorzata Omilanowska and Piotr Żuchowski, as well as Deputy Foreign Minister Jerzy Pomianowski.
In presenting the most important tasks that should be addressed by the Council in the 2012-2018 term of office, secretary of the IAC Marek Zając said: “We do not have the financial or administrative tools, but we have a powerful weapon in our hands, which is our authority which comes, first of all, from the former prisoners, but also from the other IAC members. The IAC has to primarily address the situation of the former camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, but as far as possible, it must take care of other German concentration and extermination camps located on Polish territory. During this term, I will recommend to the Council to use various methods – which will not be easy – to make all the memorials listed in the Act of 1999 on Protection of former Nazi extermination Camps return under the management of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. In the coming months, we should consider an amendment to the Act.”
Among other important issues, the secretary of the Council mentioned such items as the creation of new major exhibitions within the area of the memorial sites and the need to create a long-term government programme for the exhibitions, as well as the reconstruction of the system of financing martyrdom museums, which should even take into consideration the huge challenges of maintenance and a lack of fees for admission.
Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Dr Piotr M.A. Cywiński, presented the Council with a report on the activities of the Memorial Site in recent months. He spoke on, among others, the attendance, the budgetary situation of the Museum, as well as the conservation projects, especially those funded by the European Union. Among the topics addressed was also the status of the construction of a new Visitor Service Centre.
He also raised the question of national exhibitions at the former camp of Auschwitz I, including the Jewish exhibition prepared by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, which should be open early next year, as well as a Russian exhibition. “After the impasse of 2005 and the crisis caused by the refusal of the opening of a contemporary exhibition in July of this year, work has finished on a new, fully agreed upon scenario. Installation of the exhibition is currently underway, and within a few months, it should be opened,” he said.
Director Cywiński also mentioned about the attendance which still remains at a very high level. “Last year, the Memorial Site was visited by 1.4 million visitors, which was a record number. This year, there is a possibility for a similar result, because precisely two days ago, we exceeded a million people – which is therefore more or less the same as in the previous year. Unfortunately, the change in the history teaching programme in Polish schools will influence the attendance to the Museum negatively,” he said.
Summing up the educational projects conducted at the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, director Cywiński mentioned such things as seminars aimed at English-speaking educators as well as gradually developing e-learning courses.
During the meeting, attention was also drawn to the problem of creating the much needed new headquarter for the Education Centre at the Auschwitz Memorial Site. “It would be a gigantic shame if the new headquarter for the Centre was not opened by the anniversary of the liberation in 2015. This would also be an unforgivable sin towards the former prisoners who would like to see that education has a permanent and important place at the Memorial Site. We need to mobilise all our efforts, so that we are able to meet in January 2015 for the opening of Centre for Education in Auschwitz,” said Marek Zając.
Members of the IAC also heard about the progress of the activities of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. Its mission is to collect 120 million euros for the Perpetual Fund, from which the profits will be used for the preservation of the relics of the former camp. Despite the fact that full amount has not yet been collected, the first work financed by the Foundation commenced in June of this year, when implementation of the Global Conservation Plan was started. Currently, the Foundation has approx. EUR 27 million deposited in its account, and EUR 73 will be received in the coming years.
An important issue discussed during the meeting was the question of the utilisation of authentic areas of former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp in terms of museographic projects and proposals for the creation of various types of memorials there. “The authenticity of this place is of great value,” insisted director Piotr Cywiński. Members of the Council agreed that museography is not the solution for Birkenau, and that they will have to consider other ways to connect the space with the voices of witnesses.
Members of the Council also talked about the situation of the site of the former extermination camp in Sobibór. The account regarding the situation in Sobibór, as well as establishment of a new commemorative project prepared by the international Steering Committee, was presented by minister Piotr Żuchowski to the Council members.
“For the first time in an international group, we are talking about how the commemoration of Sobibór should look like. The discussion is tumultuous and interesting because it looks one way when we speak about theoretical things and differently when we talk about the actual perceptions of these places in different countries. At this moment, the premises of the competition for the new commemoration are being prepared,” he said. The minister also spoke of, among others, the archaeological research being conducted. “The excavations not only show the geography of the camp, but they are also needed so that the creation of new commemorations do not violate in any way the places where human remains are located,” he added.
Members of the International Auschwitz Council 2012-2018
Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski — chairman
Dr Barbara Engelking — vice president
Avner Shalev — vice president
Marek Zając — secretary
Dr Piotr M.A. Cywiński
Fr. Dr Manfred Deselaers
Dr Havi Dreyfus
Rabbi Irving Greenberg
Prof. Israel Gutman
Dr Serge Klarsfeld
Prof. Paweł Machcewicz
Dr Richard Prasquier
Bishop Grzegorz Ryś
Activities of the IAC to-date
Among the most important topics of recent years dealt with by the IAC was the matter of preserving the authenticity of the remains of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz. Therefore, a lot of emphasis was placed on, among others, restoration work, and the Council fully supported the decision of the chairman of the IAC, Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, and Piotr Cywiński, director of the Museum, for the creation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation which aims to secure financial resources for the implementation of the long-term maintenance programs of the Memorial Site. An important issue was the also the financial needs of all museums of martyrdom in Poland.
A great deal of time was devoted to discussions on the new main exhibition planned at the Memorial Site, as well as the activities of the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust and the plans to create its headquarters in the building of the so-called Old Theatre. The Council also undertook topics including the protection of Auschwitz from floods and other hazards and protecting the integrity of collections and the archives of the Museum.
The International Auschwitz Council was established in 200. It is consultative and advisory body to the President of the Council of Ministers on the conservation and development not only of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz, but also for other Holocaust Memorials lying within the territory of post-war Poland. The term of office of its members, which include former prisoners of Auschwitz, celebrities and authorities in the field of the history of World War II, concentration camps and the Holocaust, lasts 6 years.