World Youth Day Pilgrims and the visit of Pope Francis at the Memorial Site
In recent days, over 155 thousand participants of the World Youth Day visited the premises of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. The most important event of the WYD at the Memorial was the visit of Pope Francis, observed by people all over the world. For all pilgrims the encounter with the authenticity of the former camp space was an extraordinary experience and a history lesson, while for the Museum, it was the biggest organizational and logistical challenge in nearly 70 years of its history.
The director of the Auschwitz Museum Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński thanked all those who were involved in preparatory activities and emphasized that they all performed an outstanding job. “We received support from scouts from the Scouting Association of the Republic of Poland, several volunteers from Oświęcim and its surroundings, and when I say surroundings, I mean even students from Boston! The activities of employees of the Foresty Service from Silesia and Malopolska region helped to secure forested areas of the former Birkenau camp. The Government Security Bureau functionaries supported us much more than it is required by their basic mission, which is to care for persons protected by law. Representatives of the Internal Security Agency demonstrated great vigilance and assistance in field work. The police supported us at all times, especially in connection with such sensitive issues as the arrival of hundreds of buses and the visit of thousands of pilgrims. Medical rescue workers, Oświęcim hospital and firemen worked on full alert and the Oświęcim District Office together with the Bielsko-Żywiec Diocese worked hand in hand to assist us – without paying attention to time and efforts”, he said.
“I am obliged to thank in particular the Museum employees who for those long hot days left their everyday duties and with great involvement and sacrifice did everything to help the pilgrims and make the World Youth Day at the Auschwitz Memorial a success. We are, I believe, the best museum staff in the world, ready to move mountains, if it concerns the genuine belief in the righteousness of the idea”, emphasized director Cywiński.
During those days, the presence of over 150 scouts from the Upper Silesian District of the Scouting Association of the Republic of Poland was visible at every turn. “Our service consisted in maintaining order and providing information, but the scouts rolled up their sleeves to work, and also undertook the organization of medical patrols among others. In scouting law and vow, we talk about being eager to help fellow human beings and the special nature of the Auschwitz Memorial is expressed in our willingness. For us, it is a living history lesson, but also the lesson of community, as people visit this place in order to unite in remembrance and pain. It is also a signpost that bad steps lead to such horrible things. We feel that it was a tangible help and service. This is probably the most rewarding as far as this event is concerned for scouts, together with the feeling of being the relay of generations”, said scoutmaster Michał Markowicz.
“An extraordinary thing, which could be perceived is the contrast between the cheerful nature of the World Youth Day and this place”, said scout Michał Topolski. Fourth Filip Derda emphasized that this place is of particular importance for scouts from the Opole Voivodeship: “The patron of our banner, cavalry captain Witold Pilecki, was imprisoned here. Standing on duty in the former camp we can experience the atmosphere of this place. “This service is something extraordinary. The atmosphere between the scouts and Museum employees is something that cannot be forgotten. Even such teenagers as we, the scouts, are able to contribute for the history not to be forgotten, said Scout Aleksandra Kinder. “For many ears, scouts have been demonstrating that when a very important event is held in the country, they are willing to help. We help because this is what has to be done. We are scouts, we are cut out for this”, remarked Fourth Krzysztof Uchnast.
Between July 20th - 28th and August 1st - 3rd 2016, only the participants of the World Youth Day visited the Auschwitz Memorial. Especially for this period, a special route was prepared in order for the pilgrims to be able to visit the most important places within the premises of both the former Auschwitz I as well as Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps. Open air exhibition prepared for this occasion presented the most important topics from the history of the camp. A special bookshop was also created for the pilgrims, where they could buy historical books prepared for them along with memoirs in Polish, English, Spanish, Italian, French and German.
The highest attendance during World Youth Day was recorded on July 26th, when the Memorial was visited by nearly 21 thousand pilgrims. Never before in one day has so many people visited the former camp premises.