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"Biographies as sources of knowledge about the Holocaust and Auschwitz" - summary of an online conference


"Biographies as sources of knowledge about the Holocaust and Auschwitz" was the title of an online methodological conference for teachers held on 28 and 29 August.


'The Museum is well-prepared to receive groups this school year while adhering to the sanitary regime. It is aimed at providing in-depth education through workshops, lectures and meetings with survivors. Teachers and their pupils will be able to feel safe. The new building of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust is perfectly prepared to welcome everyone who wishes to learn more and fully experience a visit to the former camp," said Andrzej Kacorzyk, director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, during the inauguration of the conference.

Director of the Warsaw Centre for Socio-Educational Innovation and Training Arkadiusz Walczak, referring to the topic of the conference, said: 'Reflecting on this year's conference, we returned to the fundamental premise of education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, that is, teaching not just about statistics, numbers, scale, but above all, presenting the event in a way that allowed students to build an emotional bond with the victims. And this is possible only and exclusively when we have singled out these victims, restored their faces and the memory of their names, surnames and biographies.'

The first day of the conference was devoted to the biographies of Auschwitz prisoners from the first Warsaw transports, among others: Witold Pilecki, Władysław Bartoszewski, Antoni Kocjan, Stanisław Dubois, Konstanty Jagiełło and Karol Świętorzecki, all of whom were discussed in a lecture by Dr. Adam Cyra of the Auschwitz Museum Research Center.

An item on the conference agenda was a meeting with the relatives of Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki - his granddaughter Prof. Dorota Optułowicz-McQuaid and great-grandson Krzysztof Kosior, who shared their memories of the family home. They did not portray their grandfather as one who stood on a pedestal but as a normal person with demands and expectations. He was not the character they learned from history books. They emphasised that it is crucial to present history in a way that encourages the younger generation to see our heroes as ordinary people. At a time the last witnesses of Auschwitz are passing away, their memory should be cultivated by everyone, starting with the family and teachers, but in a way that would appeal to the younger generation.

Marek Zając, Chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Council, spoke about the fate of the young, eighteen-year-old Władysław Bartoszewski in Auschwitz and the events that followed his release. 'Looking at the fate of Władysław Bartoszewski, not only will you learn a great deal about the war, occupation, concentration camp system and everyday life in Auschwitz but also reflect on the meaning of our lives and on the question of whether people are inherently good or evil. What does it even mean to be a good person? This reflection has a complete educational dimension,' he said

The screening of a documentary film about Antoni Kocjan - an outstanding glider constructor and Auschwitz survivor - entitled "Antoni Kocjan, the man who stopped the V rockets" was preceded by a meeting with the directors: Małgorzata Walczak and Marek Pawłowski. They talked about the making of the film, its language and how important it is for the film to appeal to young viewers.

During the presentation titled "New tools in the Museum's educational work", participants were introduced to the Memorial's remotely accessible educational resources. These include, among others, e-study visits, thematic educational sessions, international educational conferences, and the latest educational initiative - podcasts on the history of Auschwitz.

The second day of the conference was focused on the biographies of lesser-known figures, but their selection drew attention to the diverse life stories, how they are told and preserved, and how they can be used in work with young people. The participants learned about the story of a Jewish boy, Dawid Rubinowicz, who wrote a diary during the occupation, which was an extraordinary picture of the reality that thousands of Jews living in similar conditions had to go through during the occupation. They also familiarised themselves with the story of Stanisław Grzesiuk, writer, singer, composer, eulogist of the customs and specific flavour of old Warsaw, and author of the book Pięć lat kacetu (Five Years of the concentration camp), in which he described his stay in the Dachau, Mauthausen and Gusen camps.

During the conference, biographies of selected victims, witnesses and perpetrators were also presented, and tools were illustrated on how to work with young people based on these biographies.

Dr. Adam Sitarek from the University of Łódź, spoke about Mordechaj Chaim Rumkowski, head of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Litzmannstadt ghetto, and analysed publications devoted to him.

Arkadiusz Walczak, director of WCiES (Warsaw Centre for Socio-Educational Innovation and Training), analysed selected biographies relating to the Holocaust and the post-war period.

The organisers of the conference held for the 15th time were the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust and the Warsaw Centre for Socio-Educational Innovation and Training.