64th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi German Concentration Camp
The theme for this year's 64th anniversary of the liberation was "Listen to Every Word." At a ceremony at the Konarski Secondary School No. 1 in Oświęcim, former Auschwitz prisoners conveyed their message to the young people:
"You are the last generation that will have the chance to compare your knowledge about Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Holocaust with the eyewitness testimony by survivors, the living participants in the history that altered their lives during the war and, in the case of the Jewish people, doomed them to the status of orphans," former Auschwitz prisoner August Kowalczyk told the students. "The intention of today's anniversary ceremonies, with the theme 'Listen to Every Word, Remember Every Word,' is, on our part, a plea, and, on your part, a promise and a vow."
Former Auschwitz prisoners attended, along with Polish parliamentarians and government officials, a representative of the Polish president, members of the European parliament and the Knesset, diplomats, officials and residents of Oświęcim, invited guests, and all those desirous of paying tribute to the victims of the Nazi Germans.
The anniversary commemorations began on January 26, when Museum staff placed floral tributes at places commemorating the Death March, which left the corpses of thousands of prisoners, who had been shot or died of exhaustion or exposure, strewn along the roads and railroad tracks.
January 27 saw flowers placed at the Monument to the Victims of Auschwitz III-Monowitz, the Monument to the Destruction of the Roma at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the grave of the Soviet soldiers at the Oświęcim parish ceremony, the Death Wall and crematorium I at the Auschwitz I site, and the Monument to the Liberated and the Liberators--the grave of the final Auschwitz victims. A solemn High Mass was said at the Church of the Divine Mercy.
The main ceremony took place at the Konarski Secondary School No. 1. Participants in the tragic events, including Zofia Posmysz, Jacob Silberstein, Tadeusz Smreczyński, Bronisława Horowitz-Karakulska, and Tadeusz Sobolewicz, shared their recollections. Roman Kwiatkowski, the president of the Association of Roma in Poland, read out an account by Roma prisoner Edward Paczkowski. The survivors left copies of their accounts with the students as a testimony to the younger generation.
"On January 27, 64 years ago, Auschwitz-Birkenau--a completely unparalleled product of human history--ceased to exist. According to a camp song, this was a place where "one degenerate brother torments another brother." When the memories of this place come over me, I think of the people whose actions helped others to endure and survive, even if those deeds--like supporting someone while marching, bringing a cup of water to the infirmary, or uttering such words as "hold on, it won't last much longer"--were not heroic," said Zofia Posmysz.
"I think that this handful of people who have lived to see today's ceremonies are making their descendants aware that this should never happen again. Each stage of life has its problems and needs, and I used to think that I was fortunate to have put it behind me. Unfortunately, I was wrong. We keep returning to the past, and should talk about it with the young. As for results, we shall see," said Bronisława Horowitz-Karakulska.
During the ceremonies, the former prisoners also read out a message to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso: "We are passing our experiences on to future generations through our recollections, words, and warnings. The tragedy of Auschwitz left behind a vast area of blocks, barracks, guard towers, and ruins. Today, it is up to all of Europe to determine whether those bricks, wires, and stones will speak to future generations and warn them of things that still remain possible. Preserve this place--not for us, but for yourselves, your children, and your children's children. Auschwitz is a part of the historical heritage of Europe. The societies of Europe are under an obligation to preserve the material legacy of the camp for future generations. That is why, on this anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we are today appealing to you for European support for the Perpetual Fund, which is intended to rescue the original remains of the camp from the ravages of time. We should not deprive ourselves of the most tragic, but most eloquent, foundation of the postwar changes to and hopes for our European continent."
Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage Tomasz Merta also spoke about finances and the need to support the Museum: "We support, and will continue to support the efforts of the people we have entrusted with the mission of protecting this place. An example of this support is the creation of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. We hope that, in the nearest future, it will be able to move into its headquarters in the Old Theater." Minister Merton said that other examples of this included "the purchase of the bus garages adjacent to the Memorial as the site of new service facilities for the many visitors who arrive from all over the world, and our deliberate and focused involvement in the creation of a new main exhibition that will make the Memorial more comprehensible for, above all, the young people who visit the site. Finally, there is the support for the foundation inaugurated by Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, which will make it possible for the countries of Europe and the rest of the world to contribute to preserving the authenticity of this place, in awareness of the fragility of peace and the political order."
In a letter that she sent to those attending the ceremony, Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the President of the Polish Republic, wrote: "I think with enormous respect and admiration of all those who work every day at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim. All of you residents of Oświęcim who live here in the immediate vicinity of the Museum are, more than anyone else, the custodians of memory. It is in no small part thanks to you that the reflection that Auschwitz-Birkenau was possible--a lesson of horror about the dimensions of the crime, a lesson of tears about the fate of the blameless victims--can be taught every day, and not only once a year on January 27."
In the second part of the observances, the participants walked from the Gate of Death at Birkenau to the Monument to the Victims of the Camp, where they placed wreaths commemorating the victims while a rabbi and clergy from various Christian denominations joined in reciting the 42nd Psalm.
During this year ceremony golden and silver Medals for Guardians of Memorias Sites were awarded to people with special merits for The Auschwitz Preservation Society. Among honored with golden medals were nine former Auschwitz prisoners: Grzegorz Czempas, Florian Granek, Mirosław Firkowski, Zofia Łyś, Józef Paczyński, Lech Piekałkiewicz, Wanda Sawkiewicz, Halina Skarbmierska i Tadeusz Smreczyński.
In 2005, in view of the significance of the place and the importance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau site as a symbol for all humanity, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the camp, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
THE SPEECH BY DR. PIOTR M.A. CYWIŃSKI, THE DIRECTOR OF THE AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU STATE MUSEUM
"Do we not feel the gentle breeze,
that yesterday the departed breathed?
Do the voices that we hear
not carry the echo of voices
that have been extinguished?”
Fleeing the Nazis in the spring of 1940,
Walter Benjamin posed this question.
Then, he could not know that,
many kilometers to the east,
The Nazis were creating Auschwitz.
Not long afterwards, he died.
Yet his question returns in an echo
and his voice still sounds--perhaps even louder.
Do the voices that we hear
not carry the echo of voices
that have been extinguished?
So many voices survived
and their words have reached us,
and carried to us the echo of voices
that were extinguished here. In Auschwitz.
incredulous, do we keep repeating:
Too easy, those negations.
"O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place."
What, today, has become of that cry?
Has the earth covered it, or have we fallen silent?
let us dare to have courage.
Let us see what we are like.
We, who have come here.
All of us,
Representing countries, governments, organizations.
Today, our voices carry the echoes of those voices.
And if we do not carry them
O Lord, better will it be for us
To fall completely silent in our shame.