“Time”. 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
On January 27, more than 60 Auschwitz survivors met at the site of the former Birkenau camp to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. The central theme of the anniversary event was “Time". The President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda has assumed honorary patronage of the event.
The eyewitnesses of history were accompanied by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland Beata Szydło, representatives of the Polish Government, ambassadors and diplomats, representatives of the religious clergy, regional authorities, local authorities, workers of museums and memorials, among others.
“This date, January 27th, has for years been marking a unique day. We are now in the place which is difficult to name and to define. There are numerous ways to do it. For some people what had happened here is a great tragedy, Calvary, other talk about death factory, but in fact, none of these words reflect what had actually taken place here. No word would ever express the evil which had happened here. In this place, a man deprived other man of humanity. Deprived not only of life but also of everything which defines us as human beings”, said Beata Szydło, Prime Minister of Poland.
“I want this voice to spread again today from this place, the place of torment, of annihilation of all human attributes. What happened in the German extermination camp was evil. Deceitful, cruel and unimaginable evil. The evil which can only be overcome with good”, she added.
“Remembrance and truth – it is our task, it is our weapon against evil. And this truth must be said out loud so that nobody will ever turn it into lie, which tries to act as alibi for evil. Auschwitz, Birkenau, Harmęże, Pławy – these were Polish towns and villages. Polish people, Polish families had lived here and they were expelled from their Polish homes. And here, on these lands of these Polish homes, German extermination camp was erected. This is the truth that we have to talk about. We must not be afraid of the truth and must not deny it”, emphasized Beata Szydło.
During the commemoration event two Auschwitz survivors, Batszewa Dagan and Bogdan Bartnikowski took to the floor.
Batsheva Dagan was born in 1925 in Łódź as Izabella Rubinstein. After the encroachment of the Germans, she fled with her family to Radom. In 1942, she escaped from the Radom ghetto with false documents and made her way into Germany. After a few months, she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she stayed until early 1945 when, along with other prisoners, she was evacuated to Ravensbrück and later to Malchow. On 2 May 1945, she was liberated by the British army.
“I’m in sauna, in the place where a human was turned into a prisoner. And how this happened. I arrived as a young girl with braids on my head, I had my number tattooed on my left forearm. I see here many striped uniforms, but at the time there weren’t enough striped uniforms and I got a uniform of a Red Army soldier; uniform – I mean trousers, blouse and two left wooden clogs. And I had a rag on my bald head. And it was me. How could I look at myself, recognize myself. I was looking in the windows and saw a figure with my personality”, recalled Batsheva Dagan.
“Now I live, I survived, I lived to be with you 72 years after. I’ll say that I feel very happy, because life is the most beautiful gift we can ever get”, she said.
“After the liberation I was in Belgium, then I went to Palestine. At the beginning of my professional carrier I was a kindergarten teacher. Did Auschwitz influence my life? Yes, it did. It influenced my choice of career. Because I believe that education is a key to everything. How to raise the children for them to be able to differentiate between good and evil”, said Dagan.
Bogdan Bartnikowski was born in Warsaw in 1932. In the beginning of August 1944, he took part in the Warsaw Uprising, for which he was deported along with his mum on August 12, 1944 to Auschwitz. In January 1945, he was deported to Blankenburg, where he was subjected to forced labour, clearing the German capital of debris until the liberation in April of the same year.
“I am number 192 731. Next to the number, I have a mark with the letter “P”. Together it all means that I am Polnische bandite aus Warschau. I am 12 years old and I am a Polish bandit from Warsaw. Two days earlier, before I got the number, I had parents, I had a home. One could say that in all these occupation conditions I lived quite a peaceful life. But it was all two days ago, but I’m 12 today and have been in Birkenau for two days. I am walking down this long corridor, actually toddling in a crowd of naked, dirty, sweaty women who came here with me from Warsaw districts of Wola and Ochota districts during the night of 11th/12th August 1944”, said Bogdan Bartnikowski.
“I got a badge which says guest of honour. I don’t feel like a guest of honour. Here I always feel like a former prisoner or prisoner. Because when I’m walking down this corridor as we were entering now, I’m still walking naked. Exactly as it was then, because it’s deep in my memory. Not only mine. When I talk with my fellow prisoners from Birkenau, we are probably all marked by this cruel experience until we die. I’m not a guest here. I come here, I must come here, to be the witness of truth, to talk about this tragic history, to talk about what was happening here. Not only me, there are more of us who come here. These are difficult moments for us”, he emphasized.
Minister Wojciech Kolarski from the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland said: “The purpose of the Germans was total destruction of the Jewish nation as well as enslavement and ruthless exploitation of Slavic nations. The evil and Hitler’s crimes are unimaginable. In the face of sufferings and death inflicted on millions of people, we are terrified by the immensity of evil. But we must not close our eyes at it. Standing here, we must have enough courage to stay focused. The courage to discover the truth and spread it to the world. Because the truth about extermination, the truth about Auschwitz are necessary so that nothing like this repeats in the future”.
The Ambassador of the State of Israel Anna Azari, and the Ambassador of the Russian Federation Sergey Andreyev emphasized the role of the witnesses to history in their speeches.
“We are the last generation with the chance to learn about the Holocaust from those who had a first-hand experience of its atrocities. Therefore, we need to put in the maximum effort to find and preserve as much individual history testifying to those terrible times”, said the Israeli Ambassador to Poland.
“They survived and transferred to us the memory of the crimes, which we can never allow to occur again. We have among us less and less of such people, as well as those they liberated from the death-trap. Each meeting with former prisoners and soldiers - liberators assumes a particular significance “, said Ambassador Andreyev.
In a direct address to former prisoners, the director of the Auschwitz Museum Dr M.A Cywiński said: “Today, on this day, I wish to thank you for every word of your testimony, for all your warnings, and for all that was inexpressible, which made us believe that we could cope with it - we the post-war generation - to carry into the future and share with subsequent generations the magnitude of your experience, which was passed down to us”.
He stressed that thanks to words of the witnesses of history we are now more aware the great responsibility that rests on those whose duty it is today to remember. “It is not true that history likes to repeat itself. It would be too easy. Too exemplary. History - just like a chameleon, has a unique gift of disguising threats. Therefore, there will come different times, shaped by new gusts of populism, different slogans of propaganda, various ideologies and attitudes of insensitivity. They are here already. However, today we are no longer unaware”, he said.
The second part of the ceremony took place at the Memorial to the Victims on the site of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The rabbis and clergy of various Christian denominations jointly read psalm 42 from the Second Book of Psalms, and participants of the ceremony placed grave candles at the monument commemorating the victims of Auschwitz.
Earlier, on 27 January, survivors along with the management and employees of the Auschwitz Memorial laid wreaths in the courtyard of Block 11 in Auschwitz I. Afterwards, a Holy mass was celebrated in the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer led by Bishop Piotr Greger, Auxiliary Bishop of Bielsko-Żywiec.
On the occasion of the anniversary an exhibition was opened in the temporary exhibition hall in Block 12 on the site of the former Auschwitz I entitled “Archaeology". The exhibition presented the original personal items of the victims of Auschwitz, discovered in 1967 during archaeological works in the area of the gas chamber and Crematorium III in Birkenau, which returned to the Memorial last year. Among the exhibits was a watch, which became the main Visual symbol of the celebration of 72nd anniversary of the liberation.
Until the liberation of the camp sites by soldiers of the Red Army, German Nazis murdered approx. 1.1 million people in Auschwitz, mostly Jews, but also Poles, the Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and people of other nationalities. Auschwitz is for the world today, a symbol of the Holocaust and atrocities of World War II. In 2005, the United Nations adopted 27 January as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Address of Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński during the 72nd Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz
The man who the German Nazis imprisoned in the camp,
was to be suddenly and completely dehumanized,
cut off from the world,
separated from people,
deprived of hope,
erased from history.
He was supposed to be beyond the categories of space and time.
As both space and time
- the basic coordinates of human existence -
they lose their power in relation to those
who were meant to be just numbers.
Time within the confines of barbed wires, passed by otherwise.
Many, I mean many, described this experience in their memoirs.
The camp time is a time of absurd haste and senseless awaiting
Time of hunger and thirst, cold and loneliness.
Time, in which everything fades away continuously and everywhere.
Time, which the end constantly seems to be a step away.
This is time that suddenly loses its sense of existence.
Time for living in defiance of logic and a time of close contact with death.
That is why the camp is such an extreme and critical experience.
You have gone through it and returned to live in a normal space
and ordinary times.
The difficulties of that return will perhaps never be comprehensible to those,
who have not experienced it.
For how indeed, can one get used to life again?
How do you rebuild in you hope and trust?
How do you remain silent, and how do you tell?
How do you fall asleep and sleep soundly?
So easy to say, liberation, return...
We stand here together with you, dear ones, aware of the burden
your hope has placed in our hands.
Do not blame us for our poor imagination
and do not perceive our questions and astonishment as a lack of competence.
We very well know that our hearts and memories have been inscribed with
what you told us, wrote, recorded,
and everything you were unable to express.
That, which will forever remain inexpressible.
But even as such - yet it is.
In the gaze, in the air, in silent understatement.
We know and we feel it.
It is a part of this burden,
which perhaps the only meaning today lies in the fact
that through memory, awareness and the engendering sense of responsibility
- it protects man from such a horrendous system of dehumanisation.
It is not true that history likes to repeat itself.
It would be too easy. Too exemplary.
History - just like a chameleon, has a unique gift for disguising threats.
Therefore, there will come different times, shaped by new gusts of populism,
different slogans of propaganda, various ideologies and attitudes of insensitivity.
They already exist.
However, today we are no longer unaware.
Therefore, today, on this day, I wish to thank you,
For each word of your testimony,
for all your warnings,
and for all that was inexpressible,
which made us belief that we could cope with it - we the post-war generation -
to carry into the future and share with subsequent generations the magnitude of your
experience that was passed down to us.