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Light of Remembrance at the 90th birthday of Professor Bartoszewski


The 90th birthday of Professor Władysław Bartoszewski was celebrated at a special ceremony organised at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. During the course of the ceremony, the director of the Auschwitz Memorial, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Ph.D., officially presented the Professor with the Light of Memory: an award granted to him on January 27, 2012 on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The distinction, established by the Museum, constitutes an honour for outstanding contribution to education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. The Light of Remembrance is awarded to people who contribute to preservation of memory about the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz. Professor Bartoszewski is the first laureate of the award.

Director Cywiński, in a special book where greetings for the Professor were written, emphasised that Władysław Bartoszewski transformed his own experience of Auschwitz into a very solid basis for all of his later activities: in conspiracy, as an insurgent, and later also his educational, publishing, democratic, social, diplomatic and political activity. “The gates of Auschwitz did not break him. A man, who was supposed to be reduced to nothing, survived, won and became one of the main teachers of the Memory,” he wrote.

“My recipe for life is a recipe of a moderate realist-optimist; I like life and I like people, I like people the way they are,” said Bartoszewski in his speech. He recalled that the first book he published in the Third Republic of Poland was entitled Warto być przyzwoitym (“It Is Worthwhile Being Decent”). “I think that after several years, I have not changed my mind – and I believe that I will not manage to change it in this world - it is necessary to differentiate between such terms as value and profitability. It is definitely worthwhile being decent, but is it profitable on a short-term basis, this is a completely different issue,” said Bartoszewski.

Bronisław Komorowski said that in his life, Bartoszewski has been guided by a very strong compass, which showed him the issues that were just. “Not everybody managed to do it. You, Włodek, managed to do it for many, many years,” said the President. He also reminded the statement of Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, who said about Bartoszewski, that he knew no other man with such a rich and beautiful life. The President presented Bartoszewski with a medal with his image and the inscription: “To the One Who Dared to Be Disobedient.”

The jubilee in the Chambers of the Warsaw Royal Castle was attended by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Sejm and the Senate marshals and representatives of culture and science, including Krzysztof Penderecki and Andrzej Wajda. Congratulatory telegrams were sent by the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, and Pope Benedict XVI.


“On three crowns he stands, and he is without a crown:
And his life: pain of pains,(…)
And his name: forty-four.”

And twenty-seven.

People feel it when their guardian angels protect them. Some are protected - it seems - by more laborious angels and others by quite lazy ones. If such guardian angels exist, then the Professor’s guardian angel most likely had the rank of an archangel.

A raid, transportation, the camp, 4427, roll call, the Komando, schnell, a sick bay, fear. Before he turned twenty, he saw more senseless death than all of the authors of this book taken together. Every man would have the right to have doubts and break down. Many people broke down. However, the Professor transformed this experience into a very solid basis for all of his later activities – in conspiracy, as an insurgent, and later also his educational, publishing, democratic, social, diplomatic and political activity. He transformed it into his opinion about the world and men. The gates of Auschwitz did not break him. A man, who was supposed to be reduced to nothing, survived, won and became one of the main teachers of the Memory.

It would take a lot of time to write about everything that the Professor did after returning from behind the gates of Arbeit Macht Frei, when, from a young prisoner, he was suddenly transformed into an adult man, burdened with freedom – primarily the freedom of his own choices. And he chose to protect the ones in danger; he chose to look for reconciliation, to build bridges and to create a good climate of understanding. I will only recall one of the fundamental works which I had the opportunity to observe. After the fall of communism, he built, inter alia via the International Auschwitz Council, a global consensus with respect to Auschwitz, which, in the last two decades, became the greatest Memorial Site in the world. This achievement is monumental; its significance goes beyond today’s understanding of this fact.

I do not know how it happened that my path has recently crossed the Professor’s path. He led me to his Auschwitz. I did not deserve it; it was the Professor’s will.

I trusted him as I could. And I can say with great joy that I have never been disappointed – neither in public nor in private matters. I trusted as one can trust a man who is at the same time a king, a chaplain and a prophet. A king – because he lives according to the idea of service. A chaplain – par excellence, because his life is composed of inseparable ritual functions: what he does, what he says and what he manifests in himself. The prophet – he has no other equal in Poland.

These three crowns: the king’s, the chaplain’s and the prophet’s – combine most harmoniously and complement each other in professorship. Nay – they are the very core of what constitutes the professorship. Therefore, the Professor is a Professor not because of his titles, but because of the essence of his life.

Piotr M.A. Cywiński
(entry from the Jubilee Book for the 90th birthday of Władysław Bartoszewski, entitled: “TOWARDS THE FUTURE with Władysław Bartoszewski” prepared by Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN in cooperation with the chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland).

Professor Bartoszewski and the International Auschwitz Council

Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, former Auschwitz prisoner No. 4427, from 1990 chairman of the International Auschwitz Council. A consultative and advisory body of the President of the Council of Ministers with respect to protection and management of the area of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, and also other Holocaust Sites within the post-war borders of Poland. The Professor is also the founder of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which was established in 2009.

In the interview for the “Oś” monthly published magazine by the Museum, Marek Zając, the secretary of the International Auschwitz Council, said that: “The Council managed to build an atmosphere of dialogue, trust, common involvement of various nations, religions and denominations, environments and generations around Auschwitz-Birkenau, which functions as one of the most important global symbols. The role played by Władysław Bartoszewski is not to be underestimated. And, what is the most important thing in recent years: without Władysław Bartoszewski, the establishment of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation would not have been possible. The Foundation collects funds for the conservation of the Memorial and, speaking straightforwardly, it will make possible for us to save the former camp from irreversible destruction. There is no exaggeration in saying that our children and grandchildren will be able to see the authentic place, the original area and remnants of Auschwitz-Birkenau – in a significant degree thanks to the will and determination of the Professor.”

Władysław Bartoszewski – Resume

Władysław Bartoszewski was born on February 19, 1922 in Warsaw. He is an unwavering advocate of Polish-German and Polish-Jewish dialogues. He holds the function of the chairman of the International Auschwitz Council by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland and the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom (ROPWiM). He is the founder of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which was established in 2009.

Between September 1940 and April 1941, he was a prisoner in KL Auschwitz (prison number 4427). In 1942, he co-founded the “Żegota” Polish Council to Aid Jews. Between 1942 and 1944, he participated in the conspiracy Catholic organisation, Front Odrodzenia Polski (FOP – Poland’s Revival Front). Between 1942 and 1945, he worked for the Department of Information, Office of Information and Propaganda of the Home Army Headquarters, and between 1943 and 1944, he was also employed in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Delegation of the Government of the Republic of Poland in the Country (Prison Cell and Jewish Division). He participated in the Warsaw Rising as a Home Army soldier. After the war, he belonged to the Polish People’s Party and was a co-editor of Gazeta Ludowa. He was held in communist prisons twice (between 1946 and 1948 and between 1949 and 1954), and in 1955, he was deemed unjustly persecuted.

Between 1972 and 1983, he held the function of secretary general of the Polish PEN Club. Between 1978 and 1981, he was a member of the conspiracy Polish League for Independence. In 1980, he co-funded the Committee for the Defence of People Imprisoned for their Beliefs, which was operated by the National Committee of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarity”. Between December 13, 1981 and April 28, 1982, he was held in the intern centre in Jaworze.

Between 1973 and 1985, he taught history at the Catholic University of Lublin. He also lectured at the university in Munich, where, between 1983 and 1984 and 1986 and 1988, he was a visiting professor at the Institute of Political Sciences at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Ludwig Maximilian University. He also lectured at universities in Eichstaett and in Augsburg. He wrote over 40 books; he is the author of over 1,500 studies and scientific papers, mainly devoted to the Nazi occupation, extermination of Jews, Polish and German and Polish and Jewish relations and the role of intellectuals in politics.

Between September 1990 and February 1995, he held the function of the ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Austria; between March 6 and December 22, 1955, he was the minister of foreign affairs. From 1997 until the end of term in 2002, he was a senator of the Republic of Poland. On July 1, 2000, he was appointed, once again, the minister of foreign affairs; he held this function until the end of term of Jerzy Buzek’s government. Currently, he is the Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers, plenipotentiary for International Dialogue.

He received numerous prestigious prizes and awards, including the highest distinction in Poland, i.e. the Medal of the White Eagle. In 2011, he was appointed by the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski, a member of the Chapter of the Order of the White Eagle. He holds the function of the chancellor of the Medal. He was also distinguished by the Commander Cross of the League of Honour, the Vatican Medal of Saint Gregory the Great, the Order Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Austrian Cross of Honour in Science and Art (First Class).

He holds the title of doctor honoris causa in philosophy and humanities at four universities: in Warsaw, Wrocław, Marburg and the Jewish University in Baltimore. He is an honorary citizen of several Polish cities, as well as an honorary citizen of Israel. He was one of the first Poles who received the title of “Just Among the Nations of the World.”