Meeting XXXIII: 13 November 2017
The 33rd session of the International Auschwitz Council presided over by Prof. Barbara Engelking, was held on 13 November 2017 at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister in Warsaw. The session was attended by the Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage Jarosław Sellin, among others.
At the beginning of the meeting, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Piotr M. A. Cywiński, PhD, presented a report on the activities undertaken at the Memorial in the months preceding the previous meeting of the IAC. He pointed to the consistent high visitor numbers. He also discussed conservation work, in particular, that carried out in two brick barracks in Birkenau, as well as the activities of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. He presented projects and plans for better protection of the Memorial. He also announced that PMAB (Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum) had acquired 18 paintings by a former prisoner David Olère, forced to work in the Sonderkommando. Director Cywiński also reported on educational activities, pointing to the commencement of the construction of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust in the building of the so-called Old Theatre. The project, financed by the EU and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, is scheduled to be completed in mid-2019.
Director Cywiński then discussed events related to the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Museum at the site of the former German Nazi camp, among others, the international conference “Awareness – Responsibility – Future”, the exhibition “Face to Face. Art in Auschwitz” organised in collaboration with the National Museum in Cracow, as well as a documentary film co-produced with the Cracow branch of TVP (Polish Television).
IAC Secretary Marek Zając summed up the activities undertaken by the Council since 2012. The members also discussed the major challenges facing Memorial Sites in Poland. Jarosław Sellin, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage underlined the significance of the so-called Wannsee Memorandum, adopted in April by international experts. Its signatories, including representatives of UNESCO, acknowledged that Auschwitz-Birkenau is a role model for other Memorials in Europe, and therefore recommended standards and practices implemented by the PMAB and the IAC.
Minister Sellin further informed that the exhibition about KL Płaszów would soon be opened in Cracow. “Our commitments, alongside those of the Cracow authorities and the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, are yielding the first results. We have discovered several thousand artefacts thanks to archaeological research. Soon, KL Płaszów will have a worthy and appropriate commemoration - said minister Sellin. He emphasised that from the beginning of next year the Treblinka Memorial Site will be co-managed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage; a relevant letter of intent has already been signed with the authorities of the Mazowieckie voivodeship. In Sobibór, on the other hand, the parties of the international project are discussing the content of the future exhibition, while the mass graves have been secured in compliance with the standards indicated by the Chief Rabbi of Poland. “Construction works are underway for a new museum building, as well as plans to exhibit the relics of the gas chambers” - said Minister Sellin, who also presented issues related to the future of the Central Museum of Prisoners of War in Łambinowice-Opole, the project of a museum commemorating the inhabitants of the Oswiecim Land, the new exhibition at the Jewish Historical Institute, and the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Operation Reinhardt.
Minister Sellin added that in June this year, members of the International Alliance for the Remembrance of the Holocaust adopted a declaration supporting Poland in the fight against the false statements about "Polish camps. Commenting on the recent Independence March, he stressed that it is wrong to assume that the Polish government did not react to racist excesses. In this context, he quoted the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Piotr Gliński, and the standpoint of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Afterwards, the directors in charge of particular Memorial Sites took the floor. Director Cywiński of PMAB discussed the major investment projects for the coming years - the new main exhibition and the headquarters of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, the Visitor Service Center, and plans for the Collections, Archives, and camp art collections.
Tomasz Kranz of the State Museum at Majdanek reported on the development of educational activities, modernisation of infrastructure and conservation plans at Majdanek; issues related to the protection of the monument and renovation of the former home of the camp commander in Bełżec, as well as archaeological discoveries and implementation of a new commemoration in Sobibór.
Edward Kopówka of the Treblinka Museum presented the challenges associated with the change in the management structure of the Memorial Site and the creation of an autonomous museum. In turn, Anna Ziółkowska from the Museum of Martyrdom in Żabikowo presented plans related to the area of the former Kulmhof camp in Chełmno nad Nerem concerning the protection and exposition of the former palace ruins, the conservation of the monument on the site of the Rzuchowski Forest, as well as the development of infrastructure for visitors and a new permanent exhibition.
Piotr Tarnowski from the Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo talked about plans to create a new permanent exhibition and the accompanying changes in the educational program, the work of guides and publishers, as well as the concept of a new Piasnica Museum. Janusz Barszcz of the Gross-Rosen Museum discussed in detail the conservation projects aimed at preserving the relics of the former camp.
Under any other business, the Mayor of Oświęcim Janusz Chwierut presented the project of a footbridge over the Soła River, which will connect the areas around Auschwitz with the Nations Reconciliation Park. The city also plans to build boulevards and an amphitheatre. The important goal is to promote Oświęcim as a Center for Human Rights Education, which is already reflected in projects such as the Oświęcim Human Rights Forum.
During the session, members of the IAC strongly condemned the slanderous attacks on the long-term President of the Council, Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, thanking the Museum team for their substantive and professional response. They also adopted the following two resolutions:
The International Auschwitz Council under the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland wishes to firmly protest against the defamatory attacks aimed at the good name of the late Władysław Bartoszewski, the key architect and long-standing chairperson of the Council. The falsification and mockery of the prisoner's suffering is, indeed, a despicable attack on the memory of all the victims of the German Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. In matters regarding Auschwitz, every lie undermines the post-war moral order of the world.
The International Auschwitz Council observes with great concern the resurgence of anti-Semitic and racist attitudes, as well as the incursion of hate speech and aggressive nationalism into public space. Given the tragic history of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are no doubts as to where it may lead to. We, therefore, appeal to European governments for a decisive response and effective countermeasures.