"To warn against indifference". Project "Auschwitz - History - Civic Education” in prisons.
The project "Auschwitz - History - Civic Education" poses several questions to its participants, including the significance of raising awareness about the disregard for human dignity, the potential consequences of contemptuous and hateful language, and the lessons to be learned from the tragic history of Auschwitz for today's witnesses of evil. The subsequent edition in 2022/23 attracted the participation of over 100 inmates and more than 700 officers from the Polish Police, Prison Service, and Fire Service.
'The primary objective of the project is to acquaint individuals with the historical significance of the German Nazi camp Auschwitz, the plight of different victim groups, and the opportunity to visit the genuine Memorial Site, which is consistently a unique and profound experience. However, education about history is intended to serve as a foundation for thoughtful contemplation on present-day threats, including the ideology of hatred, and our collective duty to combat evil now and in the future, said Andrzej Kacorzyk, director of International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust at the Auschwitz Museum.
'The programme starts with inmates being introduced to an exhibition loaned to the prison from the Museum and showcasing an online tour of the Auschwitz Memorial. ICEAH educators also conduct workshops in prison facilities. The male and female Prison Service officers coordinating the project also participated in a special study visit to the Memorial. As part of the cooperation, the Museum also shared podcasts from the series "About Auschwitz", which will be broadcast in all penitentiary facilities in the Cracow district,' said ICEAH project coordinator Piotr Supiński.
'This year's edition primarily targeted inmates serving sentences within the closed system, i.e., those restricted from leaving the walls of the prison facility on a daily basis. Thanks to advancements in technology, inmates were granted the opportunity to embark on a virtual tour of the former German concentration camp site. This was particularly significant for us, as it allowed inmates, including those with lengthy sentences, to transcend, if only symbolically, the towering prison walls,' said Maj. Anna Margelist-Czajczyk, spokesperson for the Regional Director of the Prison Service in Cracow.
'By conducting workshops, we wanted to get inmates more proactive. At first, there were concerns about the viability of this class format, but following the initial classes at the Cracow Detention Centre and witnessing the participants' enthusiasm and dedication, we determined that this was the correct course of action,' stated Alicja Wójcik from the ICEAH.
'"History inscribed in an object" was moving and allowed for creativity, while "The individual in the face of camp reality" prompted reflection, triggered moral dilemmas and fostered sensitivity to the suffering of others. After the first class, inmates immediately sought information regarding the next session, with one individual considering taking a day off work to attend and another inquiring about the possibility of their cellmate joining. The format of the workshops and the way they were run necessitated active involvement, personal engagement of participants and contemplation. This carried an augmented pedagogical value as active involvement and self-referencing are indispensable for facilitating the learning process. The exhibition displayed in the facility was a valuable supplement to the workshop. The number of spots at the workshop was limited, but virtually every inmate could attend the exhibition. The educators formed groups of individuals who were willing to participate. The noteworthy aspect that caught our attention was the quietness that accompanied the visitors,' - said Margelist-Czajczyk.
The project's significance is underscored by the inmates' comments and the artwork they created, which was donated to the Museum.
'Your perfection in what you do (presentation-narration) is remarkable. It must be disseminated, demonstrated, and imparted to all generations worldwide. It is our collective responsibility to raise awareness and inform the uninformed about the events that transpired at Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps. Simultaneously, it cautions against apathy and silence and unequivocally denounces any acceptance of such bestial actions of people against others by immediately condemning any manifestation of such conduct. "Personally, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to witness and listen to everything discussed and incorporated in the programme, and also for being able to engage in it actively,' one inmate wrote.
'Impressive! An excellently designed journey through the infamous and despicable history, capturing the atmosphere at the site of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. Arousing deep emotions resonating with sensitivity, forcing profound contemplation of what indifference, acquiescence, and even acceptance of racism, Nazism, discrimination, and the like may lead to. No one can remain apathetic after viewing or participating in this project. Let's hope for a plethora of projects and guidance like this. Excellent work!' reads the reflections.
'The project has garnered significant interest beyond the district of the Cracow Prison Service. - In response to a special request, the programme was implemented once at the Nysa Prison. In the forthcoming edition, several facilities subordinate to the Regional Inspectorate of the Prison Service in Opole will probably be included in the project,' - said Piotr Supiński.
The project has been implemented at the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust since 2008. Initially, it was directed towards educators, supervisory staff, and inmates under the jurisdiction of the Regional Inspectorate of the Prison Service in Cracow. However, classes expanded to various regions in subsequent years, primarily in southern and central Poland. Today, the project "Auschwitz - History - Civic Education" is being implemented as part of study visits organised by the ICEAH, with officers from the Police, Prison Service and State Fire Service participating in the classes.