Message in a Bottle Arrives at Museum
Rector Professor Lucjan Suchanek of the State Higher Vocational School (PWSZ) in Oświęcim presented Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński with the letter, written by Auschwitz prisoners, that was recently discovered during the renovation of one of the buildings at the school. The guest of honor on this occasion was former prisoner Wacław Sobczak, whose name appears in the letter, and who was one of the prisoners who bricked up the bottle in an aircraft shelter they were building on September 20, 1944.
“The discovery of a message of hope like this at the Auschwitz site is a rare occurrence,” said Cywiński. “These young people concealed the bottle so that some sign of them would remain. It turned out that not only their letter survived, but also that several of the people named there are still alive. The document has archival value since it was written by prisoners, and not the SS. We have names and numbers here that enlarge our knowledge.” Cywiński urged everyone who has documents or mementos from Auschwitz in their possession to donate these items to the Museum archive. “In the most unexpected places,” he said, “there are still objects, documents, or notes that bear witness to the history of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I urge everyone who has any kind of connection with this history to go through their domestic archives, their cellars, and their attics. These items have tremendous significance, since they are fragments of the history of the people who suffered here. The letter in the bottle lists several names and numbers. Without the letter, we would never have had this information. This is another piece from a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that we will never complete. Yet we must keep hoping.”
The letter will now go to the Museum conservation studio before being sent to the archive. A faithful copy made by Museum conservation experts, along with a memorial plaque, will be placed at the site of the discovery once the remodeling of the building at the school is finished.
“Thanks to this discovery,” said Suchanek, “we have learned the names of these prisoners and their tragic fate. They are no longer nameless numbers on the long list of prisoners. At the moment when they bricked up the bottle, they were the same age as the students at our school. Unfortunately, they were fated to live in a civilization of death, while our students have a chance to live in a civilization of knowledge. There’s a symbolic dimension to this.”
THE TEXT OF THE MESSAGE
“Oświęcim concentration camp April 20 44
Air raid shelter for the T. W. L. personnel. Built by prisoners:
Nº 121313 Jankowiak Bronisław from Poznań
130208 Dubla Stanisław from Łaskowice Tarnów powiat
131491 Jasik Jan from near Radom
145664 Sobczak Wacław from near Konin
151090 Czekalski Karol from Łódź
157582 Białobrzeski Waldemar from Ostrołęka
A 12063 Veissid Albert from Lyon (France)
All age 18 to 20”
Information about the people named in the message
Born in Poznań on February 5, 1926. Arrived in Auschwitz on September 20, 1944, as a result of a false informer’s report that he was a Jew. Assigned number 121313. On September 20, 1944, while laboring on the construction of an air-raid shelter for the SS in their storage depot building (Truppenwirtschaftslager, TWL—now part of the school in Oświęcim), he took a scrap of a paper cement sack and wrote on it the camp numbers and names of the seven prisoners laboring there. When the Auschwitz camp was being evacuated, he was sent to a camp in Germany. In April 1945, he was one of the prisoners of various ethnic backgrounds who, thanks to the efforts of the Swedish Red Cross Chairman, Count Folke Bernadotte, were sent after liberation to recuperate in Sweden. While there, he met former Auschwitz prisoner Maria Czarnek, and they later married. They remained in Sweden and had four children. Bronisław died on June 21, 1997, and Maria on November 24, 1999. Their children and grandchildren live in Sweden.
Another prisoner, Wacław Sobczak (no. 145664), who lives at the age of 84 in Wrąbczyn in the Wielkopolska województwo of Poland, placed the bottle in the wall they were building.
Born September 29, 1923 in Wrąbczyn near Słupiec in Wielkopolska. Arrested in his hometown in April 1943, he was sent to the Żabików camp near Poznań, from where he was transferred to Auschwitz on September 3, 1943 in a transport of 115 prisoners. He was in Auschwitz for 18 months. When he and his fellow prisoners hid the bottle in the wall, he was 19. “We were given a quarter of a loaf of bread per day and a little rutabaga soup. There was selection every three months. The Germans killed the sick and the weak. I didn’t think we’d survive. We wanted something of ourselves to remain behind, even if it was only that bottle,” he told reporters.
Arrested at the turn of 1943, along with his brother Antoni. The Germans accused them of belonging to the clandestine Home Army (AK) independence movement; their parents were probably AK members as well. The Gestapo murdered their father during interrogation at the jail on Anstadt Str. In Łódź. Their mother, Józefa Czekalska, was transferred on September 18, 1943 from the prison for women in Łódź to Auschwitz, where she became prisoner number 62664. She died there on November 23. Antoni and Karol Czekalski were deported from Łódź to Auschwitz on September 17, 1943. A month later, Antoni was transferred to Buchenwald, where he survived until liberation. In Auschwitz, Karol was enrolled in the bricklayers’ school for young men (Mauerschule). On October 28, 1944, he was transferred to the Flossenbuerg Concentration Camp branch at Litomierzyce (Leitmeritz) in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, where he fell seriously ill with typhus. He was liberated there in May 1945. Today, he is 83 and lives in Łódź.
The Museum Archives contain a postwar memoir by Karol Czekalski, in which he writes that “engineers, technicians, and master craftsmen, mostly French Jews, taught us the trade of mason in the loft of block no. 7. . . . When the spring of 1944 came, some of the ‘students’ were regarded as ready to go to work, and the Luftschutzbunkerbau labor detail was set up to build air-raid shelters.”
Albert Veissid was born in Istanbul in 1924, and later lived in Lyon, France. He worked as a merchant and musician. He was arrested in July 1943, and arrived in Auschwitz on May 30, 1944. He told the French media that he does not understand why his name is on the list. He remembered that, after arriving in the camp, he followed a friend’s advice and stated that he was a mason. He was given a labor assignment building a shelter in the storage depot building. “I think that I met the Polish Christians whose names are on the list there,” he said. He added that the prisoners did favors for each other. The ones who worked in the storage depot stole marmalade, which he concealed for them. In return, he received an additional portion of soup. He wondered whether that was why his name and number appeared on the list.
He was born in Łaskowice near Łódź in 1926. He arrived in Auschwitz along with his mother and three of his brothers (a fourth brother was imprisoned in the concentration camp for children on ulica Przemysłowa in Łódź) because his mother, Katarzyna, got into an argument over a pair of shoes with a German woman for whom one of her sons worked as a cowherd. The brothers survived the war. Stanisław Dubla was transferred (probably on October 28, 1944) to the Flossenbuerg Concentration Camp branch at Litomierzyce (Leitmeritz) in Bohemia. After the war, he returned to his hometown of Łaskowice and worked as a mason in Częstochowa. He died when he was struck by a train in 1952.
The fates of the two other prisoners listed in the message, Jan Jasik and Waldemar Białobrzeski, are not known.
(PAP, onet.pl, AFP, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum)