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75th Anniversary of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz commemorated in Tarnów and Oświęcim


Events were held in Tarnów and Oświęcim on June 12 and 13 to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the first transport of Polish political prisoners to the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.

The events were held under the honorary patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski. They were organized by: the Cities of Oświęcim and Tarnów, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Tarnów branch of the Society for the Protection of Auschwitz.

The first transport to Auschwitz - prisoners on the streets of Tarnów
The first transport...
Kazimierz Albin, a prisoner from the first transport
Kazimierz Albin, a...
Educational session for students from Oświęcim and Tarnów
Educational session...
Educational session for students from Oświęcim and Tarnów
Educational session...
Meeting at the Tarnów city hall
Meeting at the...
Meeting at the Tarnów city hall
Meeting at the...
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum director Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński
Mayor of Tarnów Roman Ciepiela
Mayor of Tarnów...
Mayor of Oświęcim Janusz Chwierut
Mayor of Oświęcim...
Kazimierz Albin placing wreath at the monument in Tarnów
Kazimierz Albin...
Commemoration at the prison in Tarnów
Commemoration at...
"June 14, 1940" exhibition in Tarnów
"June 14, 1940"...
"June 14, 1940" exhibition in Oświęcim
"June 14, 1940"...
The mass at the St. Maximilian Centre in Harmęże
The mass at the St....
Bishop Roman Pindel
Bishop Roman Pindel
The mass at the St. Maximilian Centre in Harmęże
The mass at the St....
Visitng of the exhibition of works by Marian Kołodziej in Harmeże
Visitng of the...
Students from Tarnów visit the Auschwitz Memorial
Students from...
Students from Tarnów visit the Auschwitz Memorial
Students from...
Puting wreaths and commemorating the victims of the camp at the Death Wall in Auschwitz I
Puting wreaths and...
Puting wreaths and commemorating the victims of the camp at the Death Wall in Auschwitz I
Puting wreaths and...

On 14 June 1940, Germans deported a group of 728 Poles from the prison in Tarnów to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Among them were soldiers of the September campaign, members of the underground independence organizations, secondary school pupils and students, as well as a small group of Polish Jews. The received numbers from 31 to 758. The first camp numbers in Auschwitz were given to German criminal prisoners from the Sachsenhausen camp, who became first functionary prisoners.

The guest of the anniversary event was the prisoner of the first transport Kazimierz Albin (no. 118).

On June 12, a educational session was held at the State Vocational College in Tarnów for students from Tarnów and Oświęcim. The session was organized by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Kazimierz Albim met the youth and talked about his experiences from the time of the war.

"We were taught that the example of the German concentration camp at Auschwitz was to be a warning for all against the reoccurrence of crimes on humanity. The call for peace and international cooperation is too quiet", we read in a special appeal signed by young people, who requested governments all over the world "to make efforts to ensure peace. We want our generation and subsequent generations to enjoy freedom and justice, and for truth and goodness to be transformed into reality".

The representatives of the cities of Tarnów and Oświęcim met at the City Hall. They signed a joint resolution, which reads thus: "We declare our willingness to cooperate in preserving the memory of the victims of the German Nazi concentration camps. At the same time, we assure you that we shall not cease in our efforts to communicate the truth about these tragic events that have left their mark on the history of our cities, Poland, Europe and the world ".

The main part of the celebration took place at pl. Więźniów KL Auschwitz (KL Auschwitz Prisoners Sq) in front of the monument commemorating prisoners of the first transport. Kazimierz Lis from, the president of the Tarnów branch of the Society for the Protection of Auschwitz, spoke about the symbolic of the monument which recently underwent a major overhaul. The inscription on it was changed and the ground in front of the monument lined with original cobblestones rediscovered recently during the renovation of the railway line in Tarnów, on which the prisoners marched on June 14, 1940.

‘There are still situations of armed conflicts today in Europe. In many parts of the world decades of war is destroying entire generations. Famine is returning to various parts of Africa; there are totalitarian states where till date innocent people are imprisoned in large numbers in the jails that resemble concentration camps. And we, from time to time sign a letter of protest, support a slogan on a social networking site or support a charity organization and believe we have done enough,’ the  Director of Auschwitz Museum Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński said at the monument.

He recalled the words of Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, his response to the question of a journalist who asked him whether he had done enough: ‘He replied that he had not done enough. For only those who died trying to rescue, can say they did enough.’

‘Here, at this monument, on this particular day, in the presence of Mr. Kazimierz Albin, I would like us to take a look at our memory and the responsibility that comes with it.  For this overtone of moral anxiety to flow from our memory,’ Piotr Cywiński stressed.

The mayor of Oświęcim, Janusz Chwierut thanked all participants of the commemoration event, in particular, the young people: ‘Thank you for bearing testimony to memory and respect. For the fact that you will not forget.’

‘Our actions, our activities should stem from this story. Each of us should do the Auschwitz lesson, each of us should strive to make the world a better place. The world can be a better place, but that depends on each and every one of us,’ said Janusz Chwierut.

The mayor of Tarnów Roman Ciepiela stressed that the events that occurred 75 years ago is not only remembered as a crucial moment in the past. ‘We do this to tell the youth that we do not want a repeat of those events ever again in the future. You may ask yourself, for such transport not to be organized from any city in the world again you must learn tolerance, respect and respect for the dignity of every human being,’  said Roman Ciepiela.

The anniversary was also commemorated at the penal facility in Tarnów where on 13 June 1940 Germans organized the first transport to the nascent concentration camp Auschwitz.

On the morning of June 13 in front of the monument a group including students from schools in Tarnów passed the route marched by the prisoners 75 years ago at the train station, where memorial candles were laid at the obelisk commemorating the first transport. Later, the youngsters travelled to Oświęcim, where they visited the site of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp.

Whereas, at St. Maximilian Centre in Harmęże where, among others the exhibition of works of a prisoner of the first transport Marian Kołodziej are presented titled "Memory Clichés. Labirynths", a solemn Holy Mass was celebrated presided over by Bishop Roman Pindel the diocesan bishop of Bielsko-Żywiec.

During his homily he reminded the words of the biblical prophet Isaiah and referred them to the anniversary: "During this eucharist we can pray for peace, for the end of all hatred, for any reason, for reconciliation between parties in conflict and war, even genocidal. We may ask for forgiveness and restoration of peace in accordance with God's intentions. The prophet Isaiah predicted and foretold this:
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
Let's remind his words today. They illuminate many events in the history of salvation of the world. Let's accept these words also for today and our reflection on the anniversary of the 75th anniversary of the transport of first prisoners to Auschwitz”.

At the end of the events, wreaths and flowers were laid at the Death Wall in the courtyard of Block 11 in Auschwitz I and all victims of the camp commemorated.

In connection with the anniversary at the market square in Tarnów, as well as the entrance to the Auschwitz Memorial, one can watch an exhibition prepared by the Museum "14 June 1940" telling about the fate of Poles sent to Auschwitz in the first transport.

On the occasion of the anniversary a book was also published titled “The beginnings of Auschwitz in memory of the first transport of Polish political prisoners", whose author is the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński. In the publication, excerpts of the accounts of former prisoners of the first transport are compiled to tell the story of 728 men who 75 years ago arrived from the prison in Tarnów to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In 2006, the Polish Parliament instituted 14 June, i.e. the anniversary of the first transport of Poles from the prison in Tarnów to the Auschwitz concentration camp, the National Remembrance Day of the Victims of Nazi Concentration Camps. One June 12, 2015 the Parliament decided about changing the name of this day to the National Remembrance Day of the Victims of German Nazi Concentration Camp and Extermination Camps.

June 14, 1940

On June 14th 1940, the transport from the prison in Tarnów amounting to 728 Poles arrived to Auschwitz. Among the prisoners, who were brought to the camp, there were soldiers participating in the September Campaign, members of underground resistance organisations, secondary school students and higher education students, as well as a small group of Polish Jews. They were given numbers from 31 to 758 and were placed in quarantine in the buildings of former Polish Tobacco Monopoly, which were located near to the today's area of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Musuem (first camp numbers were given to German "criminal" prisoners who arrived earlier and became functionary prisoners). From total of 728 prisoners brought in the first mass transport to Auschwitz on June 14th 1940, 298 survived the war, 272 died, and the history of 158 is unknown.

Poles at KL Auschwitz

According to estimates, about 140,000 Poles were sent to Auschwitz. Almost half of them died as a result of hunger, beating, diseases, slave labour, lack of medical care, shooting executions, phenol injections or gas chambers. Many prisoners died after they were transferred to other concentration camps.

The first transports of Polish political prisoners arrived in Auschwitz in June 1940. Until the autumn of 1944, Poles were sent to Auschwitz from all regions of the German‑occupied country, and until mid‑1942 Poles were the most numerous ethnic group in the camp. A large number of the Poles belonged to the intelligentsia. People involved in clandestine activity were also imprisoned in the camp, as were people arrested during street roundups, peasant families expelled from the Zamość region, and civilians from Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising. In Auschwitz there were also executions of Poles not registered in the camp but sentenced to death by summary courts.

Throughout the whole time that the camp was in operation, some Polish prisoners were active in the resistance movement—at first in groups of their own, and with the passage of time in cooperation with secret organizations of prisoners of other nationalities. Many Poles were shot or hanged when the camp Gestapo discovered their activities.