Online exhibition of camp letters of Tadeusz Korczowski – a prisoner of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz
‘I have been in the concentration camp Auschwitz since 14 June…’ is the title of an online exhibition made available by the Auschwitz Memorial on Google Arts & Culture. It presents a collection of 21 letters sent by a former prisoner Tadeusz Korczowski from Auschwitz that was donated to the Memorial by his family.
The virtual version of the exhibition was prepared for the 80th anniversary of the deportation of the first transport of Poles to the German Auschwitz camp. Tadeusz Korczowski was among 728 men transported from Tarnów on 14 June 1940.
‘For us, every document, every personal object or every camp letter is essential. Thanks to them, we can not only learn about the history of Auschwitz as an institution but also move down to a very personal level and show individual human fates. This is why we appeal to donate all documents and objects connected with the history and with the victims of Auschwitz. At the Memorial, they will be protected, conserved, studied, and exhibited–as this online exhibition of Tadeusz Korczowski’s letters given to us by members of his family’, said Bartosz Bartyzel, the spokesman of the Auschwitz Memorial.
After the aggression of Nazi Germany against Poland, Tadeusz Korczowski (born 1914) took part in the defensive war, and devoted himself to conspiratorial activities. On 1 May 1940, he was arrested by the Germans in Rzeszów along with his six years younger brother Jerzy, and imprisoned in the Castle in Rzeszów. On 9 May 1940, both brothers and other arrested persons were transferred to the prison in Tarnów. On 14 June 1940, they were both transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where Tadeusz received camp number 373, and his brother Jerzy number 625. Both brothers were released from Auschwitz in October 1941.
The exhibition presents not only the letters by Tadeusz Korczowski. It also tells the story of the letters and secret messages sent by prisoners from the camp, as well as the history of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz on 14 June 1940.
While reading Tadeusz Korczowski’s camp letters, one should remember that the text of letters, written exclusively in German, were checked by the camp censorship. Therefore, they could not include any complaints concerning the authors’ situation of information about the camp. In general, the following phrase was required: Ich bin gesund und fühle mich gut (German: I am healthy and feel fine).
In the first letter sent by Tadeusz Korczowski from Auschwitz from 7 August 1940, he wrote: “Since 14 June I’ve been in the Auschwitz concentration camp. I am healthy and feel fine. Please follow an instruction on exchanging letters strictly and write soon. You are allowed to send me money. Next time send more”.
Many letters written to his wife and mother are very emotional and personal. They also show how important the possibility of being in touch with his loved ones was for a prisoner: “Your last letters made me very happy. They brought me a piece of your life and I imagine that I live with you. Six months have passed since our wedding and we both have experienced a lot, but don’t worry, Dearest Halusia. As I have already written, our time will come, and then our dreams will come true.” one reads in the letter of 13 October 1940.
Thanks to the preserved letters, we can also see the operation of camp censorship, which removed everything from the letters that went beyond very general statements: “Thank you very much Halusia for your nice letter and flower which reminds me about our beautiful past. However, I’m sure that even better times [a fragment of the letter removed by a censor] memories a fragment of the letter removed by a censor] we will have such a life as it should be.” Korczowski wrote in the last preserved letter of 15 June 1941.
After his release from Auschwitz Tadeusz Korczowski was imprisoned in Cracow and Katowice and later was transferred to forced labour in agriculture to Germany in the area of Hannover. In April 1942, he was released due to ill health; he returned to Rzeszów and again became involved in the activities of the resistance movement, joining the Home Army. After the war ended in 1945, Tadeusz Korczowski was arrested by the communist secret police and until January 1946 was held in prisons in Rzeszów, Cracow, Bytom, Warsaw, Łódź, Poznan and Rawicz. He was released in early 1946.
The exhibition ‘I have been in the concentration camp Auschwitz since 14 June…’ is available on Google Arts & Culture in English and Polish.