A new publication dedicated to the fate of Polish foresters in Auschwitz
„Księga Pamięci leśników deportowanych do KL Auschwitz w latach 1940-1944” (“The Memorial Book of Foresters Deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1944”) is the title of the latest publication of the Auschwitz Museum. It summarises the history of about 205 Polish foresters deported to the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. In the opinion of Bohdan Piętka, a historian at the Research Centre who analysed the archival documentation, an estimated 170 of these foresters perished in this or other concentration camps to which they were transferred.
On the occasion of the book’s publication, a delegation comprising the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Climate and Environment, the Government Plenipotentiary for Forestry and Hunting Edward Siarka, and the Chief Inspector of the State Forests Artur Malowaniec, among others, visited the Auschwitz Memorial on 16 November. Wreaths were laid in the courtyard of Block 11, in tribute to all the victims of Auschwitz. Afterwards, a mass was celebrated at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer.
The Auschwitz Museum as well as the director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust Andrzej Kacorzyk were honoured with the Polish Forester’s Golden Cutlass (Kordelas) by the Director-General of the State Forests, Andrzej Konieczny, PhD, Eng. It is the highest decoration awarded to employees of the State Forests. It is also given to persons and institutions outside the State Forests, which through their activities, support the ideas of Polish forestry. Representatives of St. John Gualbert Friendship Association of Foresters (Stowarzyszenie Leśników Przyjaźń im. św. Jana Gwalberta) and the Director-General of the State Forests presented the Museum with specialist equipment that will help to secure the forest area on the site of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp.
The planned conference on the fate of foresters at Auschwitz was postponed due to the epidemic situation.
In the preface to the publication, the Director-General of the State Forests Andrzej Konieczny, PhD, Eng. wrote: "The Memorial Book is a monument to our colleagues who were cruelly treated by the Nazi regime. They were sent to the camp because of their nationality and involvement in Polish affairs. They left behind the forests that they so cared about. The forest settlements were left with orphaned children and wives. We only know the names of 205 Polish foresters who were sent to Auschwitz. These were people from all over pre-war Poland."
The Memorial Book was divided into two major parts. The first one contains articles on such topics as education of foresters in the inter-war period and their situation after the outbreak of World War II, as well as German legislation on forestry in occupied Poland. The second part, in turn, contains an article on the reasons for the arrest of foresters and their deportation to Auschwitz, including biographies of individual prisoners, accompanied by an extensive selection of archival documentation.
“Upon the outbreak of World War, the foresters immediately joined the fight to defend the country’s independence and later the underground resistance. They are estimated to have been the Polish professional group that suffered some of the highest losses during the war, totalling 50% of their pre-war status. Their families suffered equally significant losses”, Bohdan Piętka wrote.
“The reason for the deportation of Polish foresters to Auschwitz - as with other Polish prisoners - was their involvement in underground activities and repression resulting from the terror activities of the German occupier” - we read.
In the initial phase of the German occupation, the underground activity of the foresters mostly consisted of collecting and securing weapons that were left in the forests after the September Campaign, as well as conducting various forms of sabotage in forest management supervised by the German occupant. The sabotage activities included destruction or concealment of Polish files and economic plans on forestry and woodworking, falsification of data regarding the age of the forest stand, the condition of the forests and possibilities of their exploitation, delaying the inventory activities ordered by the occupant, levelling the timber mass quota imposed by the occupant with the pruning of low-value utility wood, and stealing resin intended for soap production.
“The activity of foresters in the organised military conspiracy involved direct participation in sabotage operations and guerrilla warfare and creating facilities for partisans, such as quarters, contact points, food supplies, weapons storage, care of injured and sick guerrillas and concealing exposed persons. Other important forms of support provided by foresters for the conspiracy and underground fighters included: intelligence, leadership, handling of airdrops, protecting battle groups and transporting weapons and the wounded. The foresters also performed leadership and command functions at various levels of the military conspiracy”, - writes Bohdan Piętka.
For over 30 years, the Auschwitz Museum has been cooperating with the Complex of Forestry and Ecological Schools in Brynek. Its pupils undergo internships at the Memorial Site. “I am delighted that the history of cooperation between the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and the foresters is entering a new phase: a memorial book has been created, exhibitions are being developed, scientific sessions are being organised, and victims are commemorated. I am confident that our cooperation will contribute to shaping the attitudes of young people; it will be a contribution to building the forester’s ethos and will deepen and disseminate knowledge about the fate of Polish foresters during World War II,” wrote Andrzej Kacorzyk, director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
„Księga Pamięci leśników deportowanych do KL Auschwitz w latach 1940-1944” (“The Memorial Book of Foresters Deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1944”) was financed with funds from the State Forests, on the initiative of the St. John Gualbert Friendship Association of Foresters (Stowarzyszenie Leśników Przyjaźń im. św. Jana Gwalberta). It is available for free in PDF format.