37th session of the International Auschwitz Council
The activities of the Auschwitz Memorial and the work of the Stutthof Museum and its branch, the Piaśnica Museum in Wejherowo, were the main topics discussed during the two-day meeting. This was the first time in the history of the IAC that a meeting was held in Gdańsk and Sztutowo. The session was chaired by dr hab. Grzegorz Berendt.
The session started at the World War II Museum in Gdańsk with the nomination presentation for Prof. Michael Berenbaum, who was absent from the previous session.
Auschwitz Museum Director, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, provided a summary of the significant events that had taken place at the Auschwitz Memorial in the past four years since the last IAC meeting and the Museum's plans for the immediate future. He began his speech with an analysis of attendance.
'After the slump associated with COVID-19, attendance gradually increased in 2022. Based on the number of visitors at the end of May, which was over half a million, it's safe to assume that the total attendance this year may reach 1.7 million. The increase in attendance also translates into budget security for the Museum,' said Piotr Cywiński.
One of the notable events mentioned by Director Cywiński was the celebrations of the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the March of the Living, which attracted almost 10,000 people. Thanks to generous donations from the March and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, conservation efforts have commenced to preserve the 8,000 shoes that once belonged to the youngest victims of Auschwitz.
The director also spoke about several educational projects intended for different audiences, including the post-pandemic relaunch of joint educational activities between the Museum and Yad Vashem educators in Poland and Israel, a study day devoted to teaching about the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust in Ukraine, and new projects in collaboration with German companies, such as a seminar for senior managers of Bayer AG from Germany.
'The path was paved by Volkswagen. Our cooperation has been going on for three decades. After the pandemic, VW volunteer groups returned to the Memorial. Something that seemed very difficult just 10 years ago is now possible. More companies are inquiring about the feasibility of various programmes. This helps to remove certain barriers of silence,' Piotr Cywiński emphasised.
He also announced the major forthcoming event organised by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, a methodological conference aimed at experts from across the globe on "Tools from the «here and now» in teaching about the «then» - new technologies in education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust".
'The issue of technological innovations raises several difficult questions, as education is, first and foremost, based on authenticity. Our conferences offer experts worldwide the opportunity to meet and debate. The conference will also herald the launch of a completely new and unique online guided tour of the Memorial,' said Piotr Cywiński.
The Director also mentioned the opening of the exhibition "Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away." at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California's Simi Valley and several exhibition events at the Museum, particularly those implemented with financial support from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. In May, calls for tenders were issued for the exhibition "Poles in KL Auschwitz. Inhabitants of the Oświęcim area during World War II", which will be presented in block 15 at the Auschwitz I site, and the first part of the New Main Exhibition.
In presenting the Museum's new publications, the director stressed the importance of the new calendar of events at Auschwitz. 'The first volume has been published, and the subsequent four will be released this year. It is an entirely new work resulting from many years of research by the entire team at our Research Centre. A detailed chronology of the camp's history would be the foundation for the creation of the monograph,' said director Cywiński who also announced the commencement of a two-year project funded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, aimed at producing a comprehensive monograph on the fate of the Roma deported to Auschwitz.
According to the director, the most momentous event this year will be the launch of the new Visitor Services Center, scheduled to open on 14 June, marking the 83rd anniversary of the deportation of the first Poles to the German camp Auschwitz. Next year, a hostel will also be built next to it. It is a massive investment project funded by the European Union, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Museum and private donors.
The conservation-related issues discussed included the completed work on the former commandant's office building roof and the window woodwork in Block 11 at the Auschwitz I site, the conservation of the ruins of the crematoria and brick buildings at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site, and the forthcoming opening of a new microbiology laboratory at the Museum Conservation Laboratories. The director also stated that due to the necessary renovation of the post-war roof structure of the historic sauna building at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site, the building would be closed to visitors for an extended period.
Furthermore, the IAC members listened to a presentation by Director Piotr Tarnowski on the operation of the Memorial at the site of the former German concentration camp Stutthof.
Director Tarnowski identified the creation of a new permanent exhibition - the concept of which he presented to the IAC members - along with the development of appropriate infrastructure to accommodate the demands of the increasing number of visitors as the most critical challenges.
Teresa Patsidis, deputy director of the Stutthof Museum, spoke on the activities of the Piaśnica Museum in Wejherowo (a branch of the Stutthof Museum overseen by her).
After the deliberations, the Council members also visited the main exhibition of the Second World War Museum and participated in the re-unveiling ceremony of the Kindertransport Monument in front of the Main Railway Station in Gdańsk, commemorating the rescue transport of Jewish children to the UK before the Second World War from German-occupied areas. The statue by Frank Meisler was unveiled in May 2019, but had to be dismantled a few months later due to the renovation of the railway station building.
On the second day of the meeting, the IAC members visited the site of the former German Nazi concentration camp Stutthof.
The Council also accepted the following resolutions:
The International Auschwitz Council expresses its gratitude to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim for its immediate and proper response in the face of instrumentalization of the tragedy of those who suffered and perished in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. The Council strongly reaffirms that the misuse of images, symbols, associations, and facts about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, by any side in the political dispute, is derogatory to the Victims and undermines the foundations of Remembrance. We call on all participants involved in public life to be particularly sensitive, reliable, and responsible when addressing issues related to the Holocaust and all other instances of German genocide during World War II.
In the past, the International Auschwitz Council received assurances from the Polish Government of its willingness to hand over to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum all the areas located between the so-called decompressive road in Brzezinka and the boundaries of the Memorial Site. However, this was not implemented – as announced – as part of the Oświęcim Strategic Government Program. The reprehensible situation of setting up an ice cream booth almost at the threshold of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau protection zone indicates that the above-mentioned areas should be handed over to the Museum as soon as possible and the Museum should be financially supported in order to complete the visible separation of areas protected by this institution from all external areas subject to standard legal regulations. The Council asks all appropriate governmental and local authorities to cooperate for this purpose. In the Council's view, this is the only solution to avoid a potentially conflict-evoking extension of the existing protection zone.
The International Auschwitz Council recalls that freedom of research and scholarly expression - including on Auschwitz and the Holocaust - is an indispensable condition for the pursuit of truth. In this pursuit, in turn, we fulfill one of our key commitments – dignified commemoration of Victims. The Council categorically opposes any attempts to restrict the freedom of such research, particularly condemning the outrageous use of violence. The only basis for resolving disputes about the past is a free, mutually respectful and reliable debate between scholars, to which the Council calls on researchers of the Holocaust and World War II.