The President of Poland Andrzej Duda and the Vice-President of the United States Mike Pence at the Auschwitz Memorial
On 15th February, the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda and the Vice-President of the United States Mike Pence together with their spouses visited the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. They were accompanied on the tour of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp by the director of the Museum, Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński. Other guests included the President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich and Franciscan friar Rev. Piotr Cuber, guardian of the St. Maximilian Center in Harmęże.
The presidents visited an extensive section of the Museum exposition, among others Block 4, containing basic information about people deported to Auschwitz: Jews, Poles, the Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and representatives of other nationalities and groups imprisoned by the Germans in the camp. The block also houses a model of the gas chamber and crematorium II at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, empty cans of Zyklon B, as well as human hair cut off from the murdered victims.
In Block 5, the guests saw personal objects of victims that were found in these storage rooms after the liberation of the camp. These include shoes, suitcases, prosthesis, glasses, brushes, kitchen utensils etc.
Andrzej Duda and Mike Pence laid wreaths and paid tribute to all the victims of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp at the Execution Wall in the courtyard of block 11, where the Germans executed approximately 5,500 people, mostly Poles, prisoners detained in the camp prison and the so-called political prisoners sentenced to death by the Gestapo summary court.
Then the presidents descended into the basement of Block 11, which housed the camp prison. Here, the saw among others, the starvation cell where Franciscan friar, Rev. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered in August 1941. In the basements of block 11, in September 1941, the Germans made the first mass attempt to murder people using Zyklon B.
The visitors also visited the Jewish “Shoah” exhibition prepared by the Yad Vashem in Block 27. The subsequent rooms are dedicated, among others, to the life of the Jews before the war, the ideology of German Nazis, and the extermination of Jews in the German-occupied territory of Europe. One of the rooms is dedicated to the memory of children murdered during the Holocaust.
In the building of the first gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz I Agata Kornhauser-Duda and Karen Pence both left one red rose.
In the second part of the visit, the guests saw the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, among others, a freight wagon standing on the unloading ramp, which from May 1944 was used to transport deportees to the camp - primarily Jews, from Hungary and the liquidated Litzmannstadt ghetto, but also Poles deported to Auschwitz from the Warsaw Uprising. At the ramp, the SS doctors conducted a selection of the newly-arrived Jews, usually referring most of the deportees to instant death in the gas chambers.
At the ramp, the director of the Auschwitz Museum Dr Piotr M. A. Cywiński showed the guests one of the original passports from the Eiss Archive, which documents rescue operations conducted from Bern during World War II by the then Polish ambassador Aleksander Ładoś and his diplomats, as well as the cooperating Jewish organisations. During these operations, several thousand illegally obtained Latin American passports were issued, thereby saving the lives of several hundreds of people. These documents were recovered, thanks to the joint efforts of the Polish Embassy in Bern, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, where the Archive will be examined and preserved.
‘Auschwitz shows the infinite ability of humankind to dehumanise other human beings. This is a history of extreme dehumanisation. From the very beginning, the world realised that the remains of camps must serve as a dire warning. Nevertheless, in order for this warning to be effective, education has to stir people’s imagination of their own responsibility for fighting evil. Such attitude was demonstrated during the war by Polish diplomats, among other, in Switzerland who falsified documents like this one to save a fellow human,’ said Piotr M. A. Cywiński.
‘If we can arouse the human imagination, only then will memory succeed in changing views, behaviours and attitudes. Man must continuously feel the yoke of his daily responsibility for the modern world. That is why we teach about this tragic past,’ emphasised Piotr Cywiński.
The presidents also saw the ruins of the gas chamber and crematorium III and laid grave candles at the monument commemorating the victims of the camp. At the end of the visit, President Andrzej Duda, Vice-President Mike Pence and their spouses signed into the Museum’s Visitor’s book.
“We are guardians of memory and the truth about genocide that was committed here, at the largest German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is the symbol of the Holocaust, place of extermination of the Jews, martyrdom of Poles, Porajmos of the Roma and Sinti, mass deaths of Soviet prisoners and representatives of other nationalities. We will never relent in our fight against evil” - wrote the Polish presidential couple.
“May Auschwitz be a reminder to all people and all times that to fall silent in the face of evil is to ensure its triumph” - the Vice-President of the United States and his wife wrote.
‘I am especially pleased and gratified that Vice President Mike Pence and Polish President Andrzej Duda are taking time out of their very busy schedules to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. 74 years after the liberation of this concentration and extermination camp, a horrible site where over one million innocent Jews, Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet POWs and others were slaughtered, we are still trying to make sense of this horrible atrocity,’ Said Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress and Chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation (USA).
‘Vice President Pence along with President Duda honor the victims of this crime with their visit and demonstrates the commitment to preserving the memory of Auschwitz, as well as the importance of reminding the world what occurred here. By knowing the past, we are better equipped to make sure that crimes like this never occur again,’ he added.