Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

Carol Rubenstein - Notes from a visitor to Auschwitz

When I learned about the year-long project that the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer had hosted for young people from Oswiecim, I was much moved and wanted to know more.

 

Let me here share with you my responses to the results of that project as here published, in hopes that you, too, may sense the stirrings of peace and hope that may yet arise from these dread ashes.

The view into this Polish town prior to and following the wrenching events of WW II and on into the present day is particularly poignant because of the town’s proximity to the notorious Nazi death camp of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Otherwise  Oswiecim would have remained in memory as one of many such towns renamed in German, suffering under harsh Nazi occupation, and trying simply to survive.

Recently a group of young people gathered at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer which was hosting a year-long program on their behalf.  There they courageously attempted to sort out their own comprehension of the Holocaust that had raged in its efficiently sadistic madness practically next door to them.  Also they learned more about their own past, as the project was framed by various historical perspectives, including chronicles of the town’s origins.  As a result they now wish to pledge their lives to bringing peace to the present world and to those new lives to follow.

Each generation, if left relatively in peace and without severe brainwashing, seems to make for itself those elementary connections upon which civilization depends – the sense that the needs of their own family are linked to the needs of every other family wherever found.  Similarly each generation reaches out to others in their own young age group as to sisters and brothers, sharing music, hopes, fears, plans.  And for that precious time of life no barriers of country, class, religion and the like exist.

These young people of Oswiecim know this need with especially heartbreaking clarity, since so many other families and so many other young people were put to death here at KL Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Readers may of course wish to seek a more complete overview elsewhere.  There are few responses from surviving elders or their younger relatives concerning the brutal war years and its myriad stresses, reprisals, and imprisonments.  There are none concerning the humiliation, round up, and deportation of their neighbors, the Oswiecim Jews constituting more than half of the town’s population, or of matters of real estate and property.  Such issues remained untouched.  Perhaps the mixture of pain, shame, pragmatic realism, and the helplessness and fury of trauma was too much for young people to handle in approaching their elders – or, more likely, the other way around.

Mostly the focus is on the life-affirming possibilities of the present as shared by young people everywhere.  That – and that other, the terrible knowledge they bear.

They desire to take upon themselves the personal responsibility of awakening in others a similar sense, to join with others in awareness of how abuse of power can inflict a nightmare reality, of how it was that socially sanctioned mass murder and unrelenting torture and death actually took place here.  Such horror, as they well know, must be ever after recognized, resisted, and prevented.

In their simplicity, in their vulnerable willingness to feel and to share their feelings, they have beautifully succeeded in their goal.

Carol Rubenstein, Ithaca, NY, USA
Centre for Dialogue and Prayer
Oswiecim, Poland
February – March 2005

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About the publication "My hometown Oswiecim"

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Krakowska Fundacja
Centrum Dialogu i Modlitwy
w Oświęcimiu
ul. M. Kolbego 1, 32-602 Oświęcim

tel.: +48 (33) 843 10 00
tel.: +48 (33) 843 08 88
fax: +48 (33) 843 10 01

Education Department: education@cdim.pl
Reception: reception@cdim.pl

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