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Kazimierz Smoleń (1920-2012)


Kazimierz Smoleń, a former prisoner of Auschwitz, co-founder and long-time director of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, died on the 27th of January in Oświęcim. He passed away at the age of 91, on the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.

“A certain era has come to an end. This is a huge chapter in the history not only of the Auschwitz Museum, but the history of memorials in Poland. In addition to being as prisoner, he was also the director of the Museum for over 30 years. To former Polish prisoners — whilst working here as director — he was the guardian of the place, the captain at the helm. He was active until the end. He met with thousands of groups of young people, mostly German, and the next meeting was scheduled for early February. The fact that death came at such a particular moment is something that I cannot even name,” said Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Ph.D., director of the Auschwitz Museum.

As a sign of mourning, the symbolic white and blue striped flag of the prisoners was lowered to half mast.

Kazimierz Smoleń was born on the 19th of April 1920 in Chorzów Stary. He arrived to the camp on the 6th of July 1940 in one of the first transports of Polish prisoners arrested for underground activities within the area of Chorzów. He was assigned the number 1327. On that day, the first prisoner, Tadeusz Wiejowski, a Pole, escaped from the camp. The Nazis ordered a penal roll call. This lasted from 6 pm on July 6th until 2 pm the following day. Every prisoner was made to participate in the roll call, including Kazimierz Smoleń, who suffered from sunstroke.

In the Auschwitz camp he worked in different prisoner Kommandos, e.g. he was a scribe in camp offices. During the evacuation of the camp in January 1945, carried out due to the approaching Red Army, he was included in one of the columns of the Death March and transferred to the Mauthausen sub-camp - Melk and Ebensee.

After the war, Kazimierz Smoleń completed law at the Catholic University in Lublin and for several years worked at the Main Commission for Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland. He participated as a witness and expert in the trials against Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg and Frankfurt am Main.

He was co-founder as well as director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim in the years 1955-1990 and was also long-time secretary general and deputy chairman of the International Auschwitz Council.

His decision to return to the site of the camp was explained as a need to honour the people that had died there. “Sometimes, when I think about it, I feel that this was some type of sacrifice; an obligation for having survived,” he said. In recent years, he often met with groups of young people from Poland, Germany, Great Britain and the United States to speak of his experience in the camp.

Kazimierz Smoleń
Kazimierz Smoleń