Danuta Czech (1922-2004). The Author of The Auschwitz Chronicle Dies at 82
Danuta Czech died on April 4, 2002 at the age of 82. She was the author of numerous scholarly studies of the history of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp, including the fundamental study The Auschwitz Chronicle. She served for many years as a member of the staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim.
Czech was born in Humnicki near Bzozów (now in the Podkarpacka province of Poland). She graduated from the St. Kinga gimnazjum in Tarnów in 1939, and from the Commercial lyceum there in 1941. She studied at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow from 1946-1952, earning a master of philosophy degree in sociology.
During the war, she and her father, Stefan Czech, played active roles in the resistance movement. Her father, who belonged to the Home Army, was head of the mechanics’ shop at the State Nitrogen Compounds Factory in Mościce, near Tarnów. He was 45 when the Germans arrested him. They deported him to Auschwitz on April 20, 1943. He was later a prisoner of the concentration camps at Buchenwald, and finally at Dora-Mittelbau. He had a miraculous brush with death during the evacuation of that camp, when he escaped from a column of prisoners a few kilometers outside the town of Gardelegen. There, the other prisoners in the column died when they were burned alive in a barn, with the participation of local Nazis. This tragic event has been described extensively in the literature.
Her father’s travails surely influenced Danuta Czech’s decision to accept a post at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim in 1955. She held various posts and was deputy director of the Museum when she retired, but always remained devoted primarily to scholarly work. Many of her works were published abroad as well as in Poland. She also testified as an expert witness at various trials in Germany of SS men from the Auschwitz garrison.
Her life’s work was The Auschwitz Chronicle, almost 1,000 pages long, describing events that occurred in the camp. This fundamental work is a basic compendium of information about Auschwitz. She continued working on it in her final years, even in retirement. No serious scholarly work on Auschwitz could fail to cite her study.
The Museum published her chronicle in installments in 1958-1963, in its Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [Auschwitz Review] series. Revised and expanded editions included the 1989 German version, Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau 1939-1945, the English version Auschwitz Chronicle 1939-1945, published in the USA and Canada in 1999, a Polish edition in book form in 1992, and a new American version in 1997. The Chronicle is also available in Italian on the internet.
Danuta Czech was more than a researcher. She imparted her enthusiasm and dedication to numerous younger researchers who began working under her direction and went on to make reconstructing the tragic fate of the camp victims the goal of their professional lives. Today, these scholars are making important contributions to research on Auschwitz.
Those who began working under her appreciated not only her learning, but also her willingness to encourage and help them. She also took a warm interest in their personal and family lives; those families regarded her as a friend and surrounded her with respect and companionship until her final days.
She lived a life of dignity, hard work, and honesty, and that is how she will remain in our memories.