The agreement on doubling German support for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation signed in Warsaw
German support for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation doubled from 60 to 120 million euros. The funds are going to come from the subsidies of federal government and German lands. The agreement relating to this decision was signed in Warsaw by Heiko Maas, German Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, Foundation President and Director of the Auschwitz Museum.
The mission of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, established in 2009, consists of preserving all authentic remnants of Auschwitz-Birkenau. For this purpose, thanks to the support of 38 states as well as individuals, the Foundation creates and manages the Endowment Fund. The income earned is used for financing conservation at the Memorial. The increase of German support was announced in December 2019 by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, during her visit at the Auschwitz Memorial.
“It is a big day and another important step for Poland and Germany. We are now 75 years after the war and it seems to me that the moment has come to consider finding some characters that could constitute our joint Polish and German heroes of WW2. Such individuals can be found even in the blackest and darkest moments of our history. They should be more present in history teaching in our countries. I would like to encourage such reflection and suggest the first person to open this joint Polish and German list. Otto Küsel, prisoner number 2, was among 30 first German criminal prisoners marked with green triangles incarcerated in KL Auschwitz”, said Piotr Cywiński.
In the camp, Otto Küsel served as the head of Arbeitsdienst, so he would decide on the type of work assigned to prisoners. “He used to help by assigning exhausted prisoners to less demanding commandos. Prisoners preparing their escapes were assigned by him to groups working outside the camp. Without him, the development of resistance movement inside Auschwitz would have been impossible. Thanks to Küsel, the members of resistance movement had the opportunity to find shelter in the kitchen, hospital or potato storage. In the memoirs of an enormous number of former political prisoners he is described as their savior, also by captain Witold Pilecki”, Piotr Cywiński added.
While recalling Otto Küsel, Director Cywiński appealed: “In this history there are individuals who deserve to be called our joint heroes. Let us search for them and honor them together as they deserved it and we both need it”.
After signing the agreement, Minister Heiko Maast emphasized that for him, as he is someone who got involved in politics due to Auschwitz, it is a special moment. He also referred to the idea of teaching history through the personae of joint heroes: “I accept the suggestion to search for joint German and Polish heroes with pleasure. Just as Director Cywiński, I am also aware of the fact that even the darkest moments in history have their joint heroes. Unfortunately, there were sometimes too few of them”.
“While getting involved in the question of heroes, we often ask ourselves the question which I have been asking myself for all my life: what I would do as a German citizen in the Nazi era. We ask ourselves the question on which side we would adopt: the side of those forgotten heroes, or maybe we would rather take part in all of this. Personally I can say that in all my political activities I have always cared for us not to find ourselves in the situation in which we would have to make such choices. This is how I understand the words “never again” adopted by the German. What we had brought on other countries, on Poland, on Europe, may never repeat”, he added.
“Foundation’s activities are of utmost importance. This is why we support them. It is the continuation of what the German have been doing for years in the context of their responsibility for history. We want to make our contribution to this effort in order for the memory to last, as our German responsibility resulting from Nazi ideology and the Holocaust will never finish”, Minister Maas emphasized.
10 years ago, when the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was established, the Fund was supposed to amount to 120 million euros so that annual interest on it, ca. 4-5 million euros, could finance the realization of Master Plan for Preservation constituting a comprehensive and long-term program of conservation works at the Auschwitz Memorial.
In connection with the economic situation, and in particular current yield, the Foundation called the countries which had contributed to the Fund to increase their contribution, so that the Endownment could be increased to 180 million euros. It was undertaken in order to achieve the forecast profit level enabling the securing of the authenticity of Auschwitz without increasing investment risk. At the very beginning of the Foundation’s activity, German general government and lands supported the Foundation with the amount of 60 million euros. Now, the support has been doubled.
He was born in 1909 in Berlin. He found himself in Auschwitz in May 1940 in the first group of 30 German criminal prisoners whose task was to supervise prisoners in the camp and labor commandos. Küsel got camp number 2 and was appointed Arbeitsdienst, responsible for assigning prisoners to work. In contrast to other criminal prisoners, he would make use of his position to help prisoners. He would often save their lives, especially when they were physically weaker or elderly, by directing to so called good commandos.
In December 1942 he escaped from the camp together with three Polish political prisoners, supported by the members of camp resistance movement. He would hide in Warsaw, but got arrested there and in September 1943 found himself in Auschwitz again. For the period of his trial, he was incarcerated in Block 11, but after two months, when camp commandant was changed, he was released from the bunker. In February 1944 he was transported to KL Flossenbürg, where he lived to see the liberation in April of the following year.
During the first post-war meeting of former Polish prisoners in 1946, the idea of granting Polish honorary citizenship to Otto Küsel was accepted unanimously and by loud acclamation. In the 1960s, he was one of over 200 former Auschwitz prisoners to testify during so called Frankfurt trials against staff members and functionary prisoners. In 1981, Polish President in exile awarded Otto Küsel with the Gold Cross of Merit. He died in November 1984 in Schwarzhoffen in Bavaria.
Source: “Auschwitz from A to Z”
Selected prisoners’ memories concerning Otto Küsel:
“However, there was one who would positively stand out compared to the rest, one […] of thirty German prisoners – […] Otto Küsel. He was the one to advise us on how to behave in order not to get into SS men’s black books”.
“From the very beginning of the functioning of the camp, Otto Küsel became a real friend of the Poles. He was the only German man, a Berliner, to learn to speak Polish. As the head of camp work assignment unit, he would provide numerous Poles with decent, to the extent possible in the camp, employment conditions, thus protecting them against cold, often starvation, and usually death from the hands of camp murderers”.
“Deprived of external approval for general mobilization, I gave up and requested to include me on the next list of those to be transported to a different camp. It was possible among others thanks to the fact that Otto Küsel (number 2), prisoner serving the function of Arbeitsdienst, cooperated with our organization. He was up to that moment willing to fulfill my requests. Whenever I ordered him he would, among others, move a prisoner to another commando, where he was useful for our organization”.
“His attitude deserved exclusively superlatives. He was very kind and would help other prisoners as much as he could. Prisoners of different nationalities used to come to him, also those extremely exhausted, so called Muselmanns. If he was unable to find the solution, he would swear vehemently out of helplessness”.
“Otto Küsel was the best friend and a lot of inmates owed their lives to him […]. When I once asked Otto for a good job for a friend of mine, Otto blinked one of his eyes playfully and asked – ‘Schon wieder ein Paff?’ (One of your priests, again?). And I replied: ‘If yes, then what?’ and Otto: ‘If you are asking, then I’ll do it’. Already during Christmas in 1940, Otto Küsel would sing Polish national anthem with the Poles in the kitchen”.
“On the third day in the morning, standing in the circle I was wondering what percentage of those doing exercise is physically weaker and less fit than me and I calculated how long I can still rely on myself when suddenly, my position changed. Commandos left for work […] Camp head [Lagerführer] was standing near the gate by a desk, together with a group of SS men. He was performing the review of commandos leaving for work, checking if their number matched the register. Arbeitsdienst Otto [Küsel] stood right beside him. He was a German who never hit any Pole. In connection with his position, he was the one to assign prisoners to work. He was responsible for finding the workers for subsequent commandos. Standing on the circle arc close to the gate, I noticed Otto running straight to us. I instinctively got even closer and Arbeitsdienst, embarrassed, bumped on me:
- Vielleicht bist du ein Ofensetzer? [You are a stove fitter, aren’t you?]
- Jawohl! Ich bin ein Ofensetzer“.“
“Otto Küsel learnt to play our national anthem on the violin and, teasing his companions, German kapos, would play it again and again and tell everyone that after the war, he stays in Poland”.
“Even though we met Otto only twice throughout our incarceration, these two times were particularly memorable for me personally. They made me regain my faith in a human. I realized that, even among the German, who would torture us exceptionally violently, there are individuals who deserve to call themselves “humans”.
“During the questioning at the Political Department, Otto told the SS men addressing him in German that he does not know the language, for which he was beaten violently and sent to the bunker”
Former prisoner Eugeniusz Niedojadło wrote after the war in one of his letters to Otto Küsel: “I hope that your children and grandchildren will be able to read about you, to know that their father and grandfather did a lot of good in his life. Your nation harmed us. But you do not have to feel ashamed or guilty. You are not an atheist. You proved to love your neighbor without kneeling or praying but by helping in all those situations when there was an urgent need”.