Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

Contribution CDiM to Christian–Jewish dialogue 1990–2013

Manfred Deselaers

The Contribution of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim to  Christian – Jewish dialogue 1990-2013

 

In 1988, John Paul II said, “Among numerous initiatives that are being under- taken in the spirit of the Council for Jewish-Christian dialogue, I would like to mention a Centre for Information, Education, Meeting and Prayer that is being prepared in Poland. It is to facilitate the research on the Shoah and on the martyrdom of the Polish people and of other European peoples at the time of National Socialism, as well as to help withthe spiritual confrontation with these problems. One can hope that it would bear abundant fruit and could also serve as an example for other nations.”[1]

Sixteen years later, Pope Benedict XVI said, “By God’s grace, together with the purification of memory demanded by this place of horror, a number of initiatives have sprung up with the aim of imposing a limit upon evil and confirming goodness.  Just now I was able to bless the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer.  In the immediate neighbourhood the Carmelite nuns carry on their life of hiddenness, knowing that they are united in a special way to the mystery of Christ’s Cross and reminding us of the faith of Christians, which declares that God himself descended into the hell of suffering and suffers with us. […] So there is hope that this place of horror will gradually become a place for constructive thinking, and that remembrance will foster resistance to evil and the triumph of love.[2]

The Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim (the Centre)[3], run by Krakowska Fundacja Centrum Informacji, Spotkań, Dialogu, Wychowania i Modlitwy (Kraków Foundation Centre for Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer), was established in 1992. It is a Catholic institution, founded by Archbishop Franciszek Cardinal Macharski, in cooperation with bishops of Europe and representatives of Jewish organizations. The intention of the founders of the Centre, built in the vicinity of the former Auschwitz concentration camp, was to create a place for reflection, education, sharing and prayer for all those who are moved by what happened here. The Centre commemorates the victims and contributes to the creation of mutual respect, reconciliation and peace in the world.

Difficult Beginnings

The decision to create the Centre for Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer in Oświęcim was taken during the meeting of representatives of Jewish organizations and the Catholic Church in Geneva in 1987[4]. However, the implementation of this important idea was not easy. At that time, Poland was still under communist rule, and the authorities did not favour the establishment of new Catholic institutions. After 1989, following the fall of communism in Poland, the process of the social order restructuring did not facilitate organizational issues. At the time, in December 1989, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski established the “Kraków Foundation Centre for Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer” in order to build a new convent for the Carmelite nuns and the Centre for Dialogue. The construction of the new convent and the Centre for Dialogue were commenced simultaneously in order to start the educational activities as soon as possible. The Kraków Archdiocese did not have sufficient funds to implement such a large scale project on its own. The creation of organizational structures[5], the construction of facilities[6], sponsor acquisition[7], and the beginning of educational activities went on at the same time. When in 1992 the Centre opened its doors to the guests, there was a difficult atmosphere with palpable tensions of the ‘Carmel dispute’ and reactions to anything connected with this subject were often very emotional, as if it was touching open wounds.

The difficulty of running the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim can be illustrated by the following quote from the report of the Foundation Board from 1996, “The entire activity of the Centre is carried out within the limited Reception area. At our disposal we have approximately 40 beds in dormitory – style standard rooms.  This is due to the fact that the Centre has been organized in a building adapted to its needs, the lack of funds to implement the original project made this necessary. The project foresaw a separate hotel building, ensuring appropriate comfort to its users[8]. […] The technical level of our offer does not allow us to increase prices for our services, thus the revenue hardly covers the expenses incurred to support the institution. Throughout the year we achieve a financial balance, and sometimes we file a loss. Based on the opinion of our guests, it can be assumed that they assess their stay here as very fruitful, taking into consideration the very difficult and demanding context of the place.  Often for guests staying at the Centre was a great spiritual experience and opportunity to participate in the liturgy together with the Carmelite nuns in their convent chapel. The ecclesiastical roots of the facilities of the Centre should lead to the question as to the balance between historical themes and religious elements. For a house of Christian provenance, the question still remains a challenge. The matter is of a very delicate nature in the light of accusations regarding the ‘Christianization of Auschwitz’ that keep appearing (also addressed to the Centre).”[9] The last sentence refers to, among others, the Catholic organization Pax Christi in Germany which viciously criticized the first advertising brochure of the Centre for Dialogue. The brochure was withdrawn.

It is necessary to keep all of that in mind in order to appropriately assess the achievements of the Centre. In this article, I concentrate on the presentation of the development of educational activities. In order to present the role of the Centre in the development of Christian – Jewish dialogue in Poland, one must describe the full programme of activities of the Centre.

House of Hospitality

The Centre for Dialogue and Prayer is located in Oświęcim, not in Auschwitz. People from all  over the world come, however, “to Auschwitz”, to reflect on this Memorial Site Auschwitz-Birkenau upon the war times when under the German occupation the city of Oświęcim was renamed Auschwitz and mass extermination was organized in the concentration camps. This is why we say that the Centre of Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim wishes to serve its guests “at the edge of Auschwitz”.[10]

The Centre has its Catholic identity; on the other hand, it is open to everyone, regardless of nationality or religion. The transparency of one’s own identity facilitates dialogue, it does not harm it. The task of the Centre, as a Catholic institution, is pastoral care at the edge of Auschwitz, the care for people moved by what happened here, with full respect for the separate identity of each.

People of various identities, not only Jews and Poles, died in Auschwitz. They came from all over Europe. Today people from all over the world come to Oświęcim and they bring with them various backgrounds. This is why meetings at the edge of Auschwitz are so multifaceted and exceed the boundaries of Jewish – Christian dialogue.

In Auschwitz we touch issues that are like open wounds. Sometimes it is difficult to talk about them, sometimes it is better to remain silent. The very presence itself is more important than words.

The Centre for Dialogue and Prayer fulfills its vocation by being a house of hospitality at the edge of Auschwitz. Since 1991 a priest from the Kraków Archdiocese has been working in the Centre as its director: Father Jacek Mola (1991 – 1993), Father Piotr Wrona (1993 – 2001), and since 2001 Father Jan Nowak.  In 1995 Father Manfred Deselaers, Ph. D, Pastor of the German Bishop’s Conference,  began working  in the Centre,  and  from 2009 Sister Mary O’Sullivan, an Irish Sister of Mercy.

Today, the Centre offers approximately 145 beds in single, twin and multiple shared rooms, it has well-equipped conference rooms and a few smaller meeting rooms, a chapel and an interreligious oratory, a restaurant,  café and a camping site. These facilities are necessary so that the guests can concentrate on visiting the camps, seminar sessions, reflection, dialogue and prayer. The friendly staff help guests to feel safe at the edge of Auschwitz.

Recently, participants of an international meditation group wrote to the Centre: “It was incredibly helpful to come back to the Centre after each visit to the camp. We found the rest and peace we needed to balance this intense field of suffering and pain.”[11]

Four dimensions define the educational work of the Centre, each of which starts from silence and listening: Knowledge – be silent and listen to the voice of the soil of Oświęcim; Reflection – be silent and listen to the voice of one’s own heart; Dialogue – be silent and listen to the voice of another person; and Prayer – be silent and listen to or look for the voice of God.

Knowledge

All programmes start with a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. One needs to confront and learn more about what “Auschwitz” was, that is why cooperation with the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim is important for the very foundations of our educational work. The Memorial offers the possibility to visit the camp with a guide, access to archives or collections of prisoners’ artwork, as well as lectures or multimedia presentations concerning various aspects of camp life.

The Centre facilitates meetings with, very few by now, former prisoners. These are mostly Poles, with a few Jews among them as well. Over the years, this group included among others: Wilhelm Brasse (+2012), Wacław Długoborski, Adam Jurkiewicz (+1997), August Kowalczyk (+2012), Ignacy Krasnokucki, Henryk Mandelbaum (died 2008), Edward Paczkowski, Józef Paczyński, Zofia Pohorecka (+2004), Zofia Posmysz, Kazimierz Smoleń (+2012), Tadeusz Sobolewicz, Karol Tendera, Hanna Ulatowska, Jacek Zieliniewicz. Since 1992, as a frequent guest at the Centre we hosted Halina Birenbaum, a Jewish writer born in Warsaw, now living in Israel. She is the author of the first publication of the Centre[12]. These meetings are in a sense the heart of our educational work as they bring the human dimension of the tragedy closer, and, at the same time, open up paths of new friendship.

The Centre has at the disposal of the guests a library with books and videos as well as a collection of other educational materials that help one to become better acquainted with the history of Auschwitz.

The everyday educational work is mainly with groups whose aim is to get to know the Memorial of Auschwitz (visit the former camp, meeting with a former prisoner) and reflection upon this experience.

In the summer of 1991, when the first building of the Centre was still under construction, international youth groups were already hosted here. They also helped with the construction. Their programme included a visit to the former camp, reflections on history and reconciliation as well as prayer. They listened to lectures, e.g. by Prof. Jonathan Webber, about Jewish mourning traditions. Father Grzegorz Ryś summed up the first years of the educational activities of the Centre, “The first building of the «Centre» was opened at the beginning of 1992. The beginnings were marked by the organization of language courses, lectures and seminars based on the thematic triad «Bible - History – Dialogue». However, very soon the scope of both the form and subject matter were widened substantially.  Also 1992 the «Centre» became actively involved in the humanitarian aid for war – afflicted Bosnia. In May 1993, the Centre hosted the Dalai Lama. Between December 1993 and June 1994, it organized 43 various meetings (often lasting a few days) for a wide array of organizations -  school groups,  university summer camps from Poland  and Germany,  Italian seminarians,  and the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Episcopal Conference. In June 1995 among other events, there was a Polish – Israeli meeting of writers of books for children and youth (5th – 8th June) and an international symposium for journalists - «National minorities in Central Europe: an obstacle or a bridge» (16th – 18th June). Two months later, during a series of three-day-seminars entitled «Turning Point '95», 367 persons from 33 countries stayed at the Centre. In October 1997 a Polish – German scientific session «Childhood and Sacrum» took place. Between 1st November 1998 and 25th October 1999, the Centre hosted 46 groups from: Italy, Germany, Finland, France, Great Britain, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Israel and Japan, as well as many individual visitors, including those whose stay was  partially or  fully sponsored by the Centre (former prisoners, pensioners, teachers, disabled persons.)”[13]

In 2013 the Centre hosted 126 educational groups from 17 countries. Together with other guests, a total of 6241 persons from 44 countries availed of guest accommodation for 16, 468 overnight stays. Apart from that, many groups and individual visitors come to the Centre after a visit to the former camp, looking for some rest or conversation.

Reflection

The attempt to learn what “Auschwitz” was leads to more questions than it gives answers. What remains is the awareness that we will never fully understand it, but also that one must not forget or disregard what took place here. The human being listens to “the voice of the soil of Oświęcim” - the voice that speaks not only to the mind but also to the heart - and attempts to comprehend what this place tries to convey, what the victims want to say, and what one is to learn here.

It seems that a reflection in one’s own heart and in a circle of people one trusts is a necessary stage that needs to precede meeting and dialogue with other parties. The majority of groups hosted by the Centre are only Germans, only Poles, only English, only Jews, etc.

When facing Auschwitz, people ask one another what is the meaning of the memory of Auschwitz for me, how would I have behaved then, who am I now, what is my responsibility? These questions became a part of wider contexts: what does this memory mean to us as Germans, as Poles, as Jews, as Christians?

Nearly every group in the Centre meets up in the evening in order to exchange impressions and reflections regarding the events of the day. Usually groups organize this with their leaders. Sometimes the Centre staff assists them. Many reflections occur outside of the organized programme in private conversations over meals or during night time discussions.

Frequently the guests are bothered by an internal personal theme that urged them to come to Auschwitz at least once in their life time. These can include, among others, family matters about which they do not wish to speak in public. This also needs to be respected, thus creating a space of trust.

Since 1997 the Centre has annually organized Christian retreats at the edge of Auschwitz. An integral part of the programme is a visit to the former concentration camp Auschwitz and the meditation of the Stations of the Cross in Birkenau. Individual persons or communities have often been invited as co-hosts, , e.g. Father Professor Łukasz Kamykowski, bishop Grzegorz Ryś, the communities of Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion, Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross from Laski near Warsaw, the Focolari movement, Little Sisters of Jesus. In 2007 for the Advent retreat entitled “Together we are awaiting the Messiah – Reflections from the perspective of Jews and Christians”, the Centre invited together with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion also Mr. Stanisław Krajewski, the co-chairman of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. His lecture was about the Jewish awaiting of the Messiah. The deepening of one’s own Christian identity and opening up to others are mutually connected. Among the participants of our retreats were many people engaged in Christian – Jewish dialogue. In addition to open offers, retreats and days of reflection are also organized according to the wishes of particular groups.[14]

The majority of the guests of the Centre are youth groups with over half of them coming from Germany. Israeli groups are rare. There is a biannual “Train of Memory” from France, bringing 500 students from Catholic schools. The organization “Travel for Peace” brings Norwegian students practically all year round, always with a witness from former camps of WWII. The educational work with youth is especially important in the Centre.

Between 2002 and 2005 a project entitled “My Home Town Oświęcim” was organized in the Centre. Secondary school students from the city of Oświęcim prepared themselves for intercultural, interreligious and international dialogue.[15]  After meetings and correspondence was exchanged with former prisoners, the young participants wrote “A Manifesto of the Youth of Oświęcim to the Youth of the World” which they read out during the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005. A year later, on 28th May 2006, they had the opportunity to personally hand this Manifesto to Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim. It ends with the words, “As Pope John Paul II stated, from us young people, who shortly will have a huge influence on the destiny of the world, will depend to a large extent the future; We therefore promise to all those people who suffered and died in concentration camps, that we will remember their history, and transmit it to the next generations, drawing out conclusions and trying not to commit the same mistakes in the future that led to the hideous tragedies. Only then will the world become a place where Joy, Love, Justice, Peace and Faith can rule. The youth of Oświęcim.”

Within the framework of the Centre’s educational programmes, foreign youth can meet up with youth from schools in Oświęcim, and are prepared for those meetings by their teachers.

Dialogue

Every visitor to the former camp can see other visitors from all over the world. Questions spring to mind: What is the importance of Auschwitz for them and how do they view us; how, with the memory of Auschwitz, can we trust one another today? The relationships are wounded or destroyed. Thus, the healing ‘after Auschwitz’ is about healing the relationships. It cannot be done alone – Jews by themselves, Germans by themselves, Poles by themselves, etc.

Dialogue in the context of Auschwitz is a dialogue of wounded people. Healing is about building trust. Therefore the ‘antechamber’ of dialogue is so important. Before we enter the ‘living room’ of dialogue we must get the motivation to enter. We need to have a place where everybody feels welcome and respected, with their own identity, with their wounds. Trust is built through face to face encounter.

Among many dialogues taking place at the edge of Auschwitz, Christian – Jewish dialogue plays a key role. One can say that it is THE dialogue for which the Centre came into existence; this dialogue becomes a model for other dialogues. Even if directly it is not the main theme of the multitude of events at the Centre, it is always present, at least in the background.

In 1990, Cardinal Macharski established the International Programme Council whose members were distinguished personalities in the field of Christian – Jewish dialogue from Poland and abroad, Christians and Jews.[16]. It was in this group, which met a few times during the initial stages of the Centre’s existence, that the main directions of educational work were presented and discussed.

In 1993 the Międzywydziałowy Instytut Ekumenii i Dialogu (MIED, Interfaculty Institute of Ecumenism and Dialogue) was established at the Papal Theological Academy in Kraków. The Institute, under the leadership of Fr Professor Łukasz Kamykowski, has been cooperating with the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim from the very beginnings of its existence.[17] In 2013 the Institute was transformed into Instytut Teologii Fundamentalnej, Ekumenii i Dialogu (ITFED, Institute of Fundamental Theology, Ecumenism and Dialogue) at the Theology Department of the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kraków. One of the points of its statute states that it ‘fosters constant cooperation with the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer’ (Art. 6 § 5).

In 1997 the Centre invited Jews and Christians from Poland, Germany and USA who were involved in dialogue.[18] The reflections concerned the religious approach to the Auschwitz reality. The fact that a list of twenty four questions was formed as a result of this meeting shows how difficult this subject matter was. The list was sent to many groups involved in Christian – Jewish dialogue all over the world.[19]  Only the National Holocaust Remembrance Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress prepared an extensive response.[20] The Centre met with no negative reactions.

The participants of this meeting (many professors, priests and a rabbi) decided to remain in contact and together organize seminars at the edge of Auschwitz with their students. Thus, foundations of trust were formed for the continuation of building dialogue.  

Since 1997 the Centre has been inviting Polish students for ‘study days’ which in subsequent years turned into international meetings. They were organized according to the following rules: first, for two days the participants listened together to ‘the voice of this soil, the soil of Auschwitz’ through guided tours and a meeting with a witness. In the evenings, they shared the impressions of the day. Then they spent a day in Kraków. Two subsequent days, again in Oświęcim, were dedicated to reflection. The speakers talked first of all about themselves and their perspective, e.g. a rabbi from America about Jewish theology after Auschwitz in the US, a professor from Germany about the German experience of dialogue after Auschwitz, a priest from Poland about the Polish view on Auschwitz. They did not speak about the other, they listened to the other.

The book Dialog u progu Auschwitz (Dialogue at the Edge of Auschwitz) is a fruit of such meetings. It comprises texts of lectures from ‘study days’ and forms a kind of basic introduction to this difficult dialogue.[21] These interreligious and international study days ‘at the edge of Auschwitz’ have become an important school of dialogue for all participants, not only from the scientific point of view. One of the female participants expressed it very aptly, “A great value of the seminar was the encounter with other people. Our joint presence at Auschwitz was a special sign. Even though everyone must stand alone on this ground and confront its memory, we wanted to be there together. Not to convince anyone, but to listen to each other, to learn a different perspective and to broaden one’s own heart for the concern of others. Our presence was common also on the religious and national level – participating in the meetings were Christians and Jews from Poland, Israel, Germany, England and the United States. The fact that we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau together became an event of great symbolic importance!”[22] Some of the participants now lecture or in one way or another are deeply involved in their environments in Christian-Jewish dialogue.

The international conference Religion and Violence, Religion and Peace was an important event. Many significant Jewish and Christian religious leaders, including a few cardinals and rabbis, as well as a representative of Islam, arrived at the invitation of the Sacred Heart University in Connecticut (USA) and the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim.[23]

The religious Christian-Jewish dialogue at the edge of Auschwitz quickly gathered pace. Other examples include:

In 2007 the Centre initiated and since has been assisting in the implementation of study visits of Polish priests in Israel, organized by the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Episcopal Conference, the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The Association of Fundamental Theologians in Poland organized its annual convention in 2008 in the Centre, entitling it Perspectives of a Theology after Auschwitz. The speakers included a German and an Israeli. Lecturers from all Catholic seminaries and theology departments in Poland participated in the conference. [24]

The Centre is also in constant touch with ICCJ (International Council of Christians and Jews). It is the main organization for institutions engaged in religious Christian – Jewish dialogue from all over the world. In 2011 the annual ICCJ conference took place in Poland – in Kraków and Oświęcim. In the Centre, meditations, lectures and workshops took place; together, the participants walked the ramp in Birkenau as a prayer way where at various stations the righteous among the nations, perpetrators, victims of the camp of all nationalities and Jewish Shoah victims were remembered. It was accompanied by Christian and Jewish prayers.[25] It was a moving experience for the participants; it showed that we are able to respect the Auschwitz victims together and be in prayer together, in mutual respect and common responsibility for the future. It was no longer the spirit of a dispute.

The number of lectures and seminars about the Holocaust and Dialogue for students groups from around the world keeps increasing in the Centre (16 foreign groups in 2013).

A one year course “ABC of Christian – Polish – Jewish Relations” has been organized since 2013 in Oświęcim by the Institute of Fundamental Theology, Ecumenism and Dialogue of the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kraków, the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust at the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Apart from Christian-Jewish dialogue, other dialogues develop at the Centre.  A few examples include:

Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk, a German association helping former prisoners of concentration camps and ghettos, organizes in the Centre annual meetings of former prisoners of concentration camps and ghettos with the youth, teachers and journalists.

Maximilian-Kolbe-Stiftung from Germany, presided over by Bishop Ludwig Schick from Germany and Archbishop Wiktor Skworc from Poland, organizes at the Centre annual international workshops that are a school of reconciliation after a difficult past for people involved in reconciliation in various explosive spots in Europe.

Every year since 1995 the Zen Peacemaker Community and Polish Zen Peacemakers have been organizing a week-long interreligious and international Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat. It is organized by Buddhists, but among the participants are also Jews, Christians and often also representatives of other religions.

Since 2008 the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation from New York, in cooperation with the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, organizes programmes aimed at the prevention of genocide and other forms of mass murder. Over 250 politicians and decision-makers from more than 60 countries have participated in them so far.[26]

An important, but at the same time difficult and rare dialogue concerns the former USSR countries. In Auschwitz, approximately 15, 000 Russian prisoners were killed, and the Red Army liberated the camp. 250 young Catholics from Russia together with Bishop Clemens Pickel experienced two days of reflection in the Centre in 2008. Together with the Russians, the Centre also organized seminars regarding various perspectives on the Second World War (2010), and on human rights in cooperation with the University of Voronezh and the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (2013).

For a few years now the Japanese NGO Peace Boat in cooperation with the Centre has been organizing study days, in which Hibakusha – the victims of the attack on Hiroshima or Nagasaki – sometimes participate. What is important for them, among other things, are meetings with the youth of Oświęcim with whom they talk about how difficult it is to live with the difficult past of one’s hometown.

This list of examples of dialogue is not exhaustive; many other initiatives could also be enumerated here.

Prayer

In the immediate vicinity of the Centre are the Convent and the Chapel of the Carmelite Nuns. With no formal ties with the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer, the sisters lead a separate life of prayer. However, their proximity radiates as a witness of faith at the edge of Auschwitz.

What motivates us at the edge of Auschwitz is the belief that the power of evil does not have the final word about Auschwitz. This is why we do not give up in difficult moments. Prayer is the patience of dialogue.

Edith Stein, Sister Benedicta of the Cross, was also a Carmelite nun. John Paul II beatified her (1987), canonized her (1998) and proclaimed her the Co-Patroness of Europe (1999). Because of her Jewish origin, she was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. When the Pope proclaimed Edith Stein Co-Patroness of Europe, he wrote, “Her voice merged with the cry of all the victims of that appalling tragedy, but at the same time was joined to the cry of Christ on the Cross which gives to human suffering a mysterious and enduring fruitfulness.”[27] Edith Stein consciously united herself with the fate of her Jewish people in the catastrophe. She did so with the light of her Christian faith in the saving sense of the cross. Connected with the Jewish Shoah and connected with the Cross of Christ, she is in a sense a patron of Christian-Jewish dialogue after Auschwitz.

Aware of the Jewish fear that the veneration of Edith Stein may lead some Catholics to forget about non-baptized Jewish victims, that is to the ‘Christianization’ of the memory about Auschwitz, the Centre emphasizes that Edith leads Christians to Jewish victims. One cannot think about her without remembering at the same time the Shoah.

The Centre has organized two large – scale conferences about Edith Stein, a Polish one in 2006 and an international one in 2012. The guests included Jewish speakers. During many retreats, the participants meditated Edith Stein’s texts and her fate. Beginning in 2002, for over 10 years the Centre has been organizing celebrations on the anniversary of the death of this great woman.

The celebrations of the 60th anniversary of her death in 2002 and the 70th anniversary in 2012 were discussed in advance with Jewish representatives. In 2012, before the Holy Mass celebrated by 12 bishops at the monument in Birkenau, the participants walked along the Ramp – symbolic traces of Edith Stein’s last journey in a Jewish transport. It was a path of prayer, prepared in cooperation with the Polish Council of Christians and Jews.[28]

*     *     *

Benedict XVI’s visit to Auschwitz, Birkenau and the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in 2006 was of great importance as it showed the world Auschwitz and Birkenau as a place of prayer and meetings. The best summary of this event was the sign that in Birkenau, during the Pope’s prayer in which he was accompanied by representatives of various Christian denominations and Jews, a rainbow appeared in the sky. In the Bible the rainbow is a symbol of the Covenant and reminds about the promise that God made to Noah that life on Earth shall never again be flooded and destroyed (Gen 9, 13-15). The Pope later recalled,  “My travels in Poland could not omit a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, to that place of the cruellest of barbarities, the attempt to wipe out the People of Israel, and thus render their election by God vain and indeed, to banish God himself from history. It was a source of great comfort to me at that moment to see a rainbow appearing in the sky as before the horrors of that place, I cried out to God like Job, shaken by the dread of his apparent absence but at the same time supported by the certainty that even in his silence he does not cease to be and remain with us. The rainbow was, as it were, a response: Yes, I exist, and the words of the promise, of the Covenant which I spoke after the flood, are still valid today.” [29] Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, said that the most important rainbow appeared when Benedict XVI visited Auschwitz. It came when God saw that His children are together.[30]

Translated from Polish by Agnieszka Sababady



[1] John Paul II, 24th June 1988, Mauthausen, Austria.

[2] Benedict XVI, 28th May 2006, Oświęcim.

[3] Compare: www.cdim.pl In 1998 the Centre for Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer in Oświęcim was renamed the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer (the Centre).

[4] Compare: Auschwitz. Konflikty i dialog, pod red. Ks. Marka Głowni oraz Stefana Wilkanowicza, Krakowska Fundacja Centrum Informacji, Spotkań, Dialogu, Wychowania i Modlitwy oraz Wydawnictwo św. Stanisława, Kraków 1988, s. 178-180. [Auschwitz. Conflicts andDialogue, Ed. Marek Głownia and Stefan Wilkanowicz, Krakow Foundation Centre for Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer and St. Stanislaw Publishing House, Kraków 1988, p.178-180.]

[5] In 1996 Cardinal Macharski establishes ‘The Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim’ to carry out the educational work. The Centre receives public ecclesiastical juridical personality, independently of the Krakow Foundation which was to focus on construction completion. In 2007, once the main construction works were completed, Cardinal Macharski terminated the functioning of the Centre as a separate organizational entity, and the Kraków foundation with a new statute focused on educational activities has been managing the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer ever since.

[6] 1990 saw the beginning of the construction of the first Centre for Dialogue building which was opened in 1992. The construction of the chapel and the convent of the Carmelite nuns was commenced in 1990 and finalized in 1995. The first guests in the new, main building of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer were hosted in 2005.

[7] The main sponsors of the construction are: German Dioceses of Munich and Cologne; The Diocese of New York (USA); the Holy See; the Primate of Poland; Episcopates of Italy, France, and Holland; the Renovabis Foundation of the German Episcopate; Knights of Columbus from the United States.

[8]  It was only in 2005 that the main (i.e. new) building of the Centre was made available to the guests.

[9] Archives of the Centre.

[10] Pope John Paul II wrote to the Carmelite nuns in Oświęcim in his letter dated 9th April 1993, “The way in which the future will grow out of this most painful past largely depends on whether or not love keeps vigil at the threshold of Auschwitz – that love which is stronger than death (compare Song of Sg 8,6).”

[11] Ingrid Foeken on behalf of a group from a Ridhwan meditation school, May 2014, in the report about their stay in Oświęcim sent to the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer.

[12] Compare.: Halina Birenbaum, Jak można w słowach. Wiersze. Centrum Dialogu, Kraków-Oświęcim 1995. Compare also: Halina Birenbaum, Po co jechać do tej Polski? Więź, Warszawa, kwiecień 1996 (450), p. 100-117; Halina Birenbaum, Auschwitz – wczoraj i dziś. Czy mam prawo czuć się tutaj szczęśliwa? In: Dialog u progu Auschwitz, vol. 1. UNUM, Kraków 2003, p. 17-21.[Halina Birenbaum How possible in words. Poems. Centre for Dialogue, Kraków – Oświęcim 1995. Compare also: Halina Birenbaum Why go to that Poland? Więż, Warszawa, April 1996 (450), p.100-117; Halina Birenbaum Auschwitz – yesterday and today. Do I have the right to feel happy here? In: Dialogue on the edge of Auschwitz, vol.1. UNUM, Kraków 2003, s.17-21.]

[13] Grzegorz Ryś, Kardynał Franciszek Macharski - Pasterz w czasach przełomu. W: Archidiecezja Krakowska na przełomie tysiąclecia. Red.: Stefan Koperek. Wyd. Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Kraków 2004, s. 33. [Grzegorz Ryś, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski Shepherd at the Turning Point in History. In: Kraków Archdiocese at the turn of the century. Ed.: Stefan Koperek, Jagiellonian University Press, Kraków 2004, p.33]

[14] Days of reflection or retreat, e.g. for the seminarians from Kraków, Łódź, and Płock Dioceses; for the seminarians of the Tarnów Diocese, annually since 2009; Katowice Archdiocese, annually since 2011; seminarians of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette and the Pauline Order; the Major Superiors of the Orders of Europe (2010); the Formation Team of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion; European Superiors of the Order of St Augustine (2012); The National Conference of Secular Institutes (2011); the Organizational Committee of the Gniezno Convention (2008); Directors of Caritas Polska (2011); Academic Staff of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków; seminarians and priests from Germany; university chaplains from Westminster, England; Edith Stein Association in Germany; pilgrims from Kiev, Ukraine; students from various schools; Pax Christi International Members of Board (2013).

[15] One of the results of the project was a publication Miejsce zamieszkania Oświęcim – Wohnort Oświęcim – My Home Town Oświęcim in which the youth introduce their town in three languages to the guests. Edited by Elżbieta Głowacka. Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim, Oświęcim 2005.

[16] MEMBERS OF THE INTERNATIONAL PROGRAM COUNCIL  O. Jean Dujardin (Secrétaire du Comité épiscopal Français pour les Relations avec le Judaïsme,  Superieur General de l'Oratoire, Chairman of the International Program Council); Stefan Wilkanowicz (Editor-in-Chief of "Znak”, Deputy Chairman of the International Program Council); Bishop Kazimierz Nycz (Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Kraków, Chairman of the Council of the Foundation); Fr Stanisław Musiał, (Secretary of the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Secretary of the International Program Council, Deputy Editor-in-Chief in “Tygodnik Powszechny”); Bishop Henryk Muszyński (Chairman of the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Bishop of the Diocese of Włocławek); Fr Michał Czajkowski, Ph. D. (Member of the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Episcopal Conference, professor at the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw); Fr Marek Głownia (Director of the Kraków Foundation “Centre for Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer in Oświęcim”); Fr Józef Święcicki (Parish priest of the parish in Brzezinka); Fr Prof. Joseph de Smedt (University of Leuven); Mr Wojciech Sieniawski (KIK – Kraków); Mr. Juliusz Zychowicz (KIK – Kraków); Mr. Jan Parcer (the State Museum in Oświęcim); Mr Jerzy Turowicz (Member of  the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Editor-in-Chief of “Tygodnik Powszechny”); S. Anne Denise Rinckwald (La Superieure Provinciale De Notre-Dame de Sion); Prof. Dr Stefan Schreiner (University Professor, Berlin, Aktion Sühnezeichen, International Council of Christians and Jews); Pastor Bernd Liedtke (Aktion Sühnezeichen); Mr Adam Szesztay (Magyar Demokrata Forum – Budapest); Prof. Juliusz Schreider (Chairmand of the Catholic Club, Moscow); Prof. Izrael Gutman (Yad Vashem, Jerusalem); Rabbi Leon Klenicki (Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith, New York); Jeshajahu Weinberg (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington); Rabbi Henri Siegman (American Jewish Congress, Executive Director); Prof. Jonatan Webber (Oxford Centre for Jewish Studies); Małgorzata Rubel (Oxford); Prof. Dr Simon Lauer (Institut für Jüdisch-Christliche Forschung, Luzern); Rabbi A. James Rudin (National Interreligious Director, American Jewish Committee, New York).

[17] More in „Dialog teologiczny, który słucha głosu ziemi oświęcimskiej. O współpracy MIED – CDiM“. W: "Rola placówek naukowych w dialogu ekumenicznym. Sesja jubileuszowa z okazji 10-lecia Międzywydziałowego Instytutu Ekumenii i Dialogu Papieskiej Akademii Teologicznej w Krakowie (Kraków, 17 grudnia 2003 r.)", red. M. Poniewierska, Biblioteka Ekumenii i Dialogu tom 25, Kraków 2004, s. 73-93. [Theological dialogue that listens to the voice of the soil of Auschwitz. About cooperation between the Interfaculty Institute of Ecumenism and Dialogue and the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer. In: The role of scientific centres in ecumenical dialogue. A jubilee session on the 10th anniversary of existence of the Interfaculty Institute of Ecumenism of the Papal Academy of Theology in Kraków (Kraków, 17 December 2003). Ed. Maria Poniewierska, Library of Ecumenism and Dialogue, vol. 25, Kraków 2004, p. 73-93.]

[18] Participants: Henryk Halkowski, Kraków (died 2009); Fr Hanspeter Heinz, professor of pastoral theology, Augsburg; Fr Łukasz Kamykowski, professor of the Papal Academy of Theology, Kraków; Herbert Immenkötter, professor of the history of the Church, Augsburg; Fr Klaus Kienzler, professor of fundamental theology, Augsburg; Rabbi Michael Signer, professor of Judaism, University of Notre Dame, USA (died 2009); Stefan Wilkanowicz, deputy Chairman of the International Council of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau; Fr Manfred Deselaers, Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim.

[19] List of Questions in: Theological dialogue that listens to …, ibidem, footnote 12.  

[20] Dated 1 December 1998, prepared by Nathan Leipciger, member of the International Council of the State Museum Auschwitz – Birkenau in Oświęcim, with the help of Rabbi Dow Marmur and Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka. These themes were discussed with Rabbi Dow Marmur on 24 April 1999 in the Institute for Ecumenism and Dialogue in Kraków.

[21]Dialog u progu Auschwitz tom 1, pod red. ks. Manfreda Deselaersa, Krakow 2003. (German edition: Dialog an der Schwelle vom Auschwitz Band 1. Kraków 2003. A selection of texts in: Dialogue at the edge of Auschwitz – Perspectives for a theology after Auschwitz. edited by Manfred Deselaers, Kraków 2014, Publisher: Wydawnictwo UNUM, Centre for Dialogue and Prayer, Krakow-Oswiecim 2014)

[22] Agata Kroh in  Dialogue at the Edge of Auschwitz, p.11.

[23] AMIRA SHAMMA ABDIN, Professor of Islamic Culture, Leo Beck College, London; ANTHONY J. CERNERA, President of Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut; DAVID L. COPPOLA, Director of Conferences and Publications, Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding of Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut; GEORGES COTTIER, O.P., Papal Theologian, Casa Pontificia, Palazzo Apostolico, Vatican City; CAHAL BRENDAN CARDINAL DALY, Archbishop Emeritus of Armagh, Ireland; JOSEPH H. EHRENKRANZ, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding of Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut; ARCHBISHOP JEREMIASZ, Orthodox Archbishop of Wroclaw and Szczecin, Poland; WILLIAM CARDINAL KEELER, Archbishop of Baltimore, Maryland; FRANCISZEK CARDINAL MACHARSKI, Metropolitan Archbishop of Krakow, Poland; MARTIN E. MARTY, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago, Illinois; ELISABETH MAXWELL, International Lecturer, London, England; SAMUEL PISAR, Holocaust Survivor, International Attorney, Paris and New York; DAVID ROSEN, Executive Director, Anti-Defamation League, Israel; RENE-SAMUEL SIRAT, Chief Orthodox Rabbi Emeritus of Europe, Paris, France. Dokumentacja w książce: Religion and Violence, Religion and Peace. Essays from the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding Conference in Auschwitz, Poland May 1998, ed. by Joseph H. Ehrenkranz and David L. Coppola, Sacred Heart University Press, Fairfield, Connecticut 2000.

[24] Documentation in: Dialog u progu Auschwitz tom 2 – Perspektywy teologii po Auschwitz, pod red. ks. Manfreda Deselaersa, Kraków 2010. (German edition: Dialog an der Schwelle vom Auschwitz Band 2 – Perspektiven einer Theologie nach Auschwitz. Kraków 2011. A selection of texts in English in: Dialogue at the edge of Auschwitz – Perspectives for a theology after Auschwitz. Kraków 2014.)

[25] Documentation: Religions and Ideologies, Polish Perspectives and Beyond. 2011 Cracow Conference ICCJ. Report, From the Martin Buber House, Number 32. Heppenheim, Germany.

[26] www.auschwitzinstitute.org/global-programs/ [access 2014-11-17].

[27]  John Paul II Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio proclaiming Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Co –patronesses of Europe. Rome, 1 October 1999, no.9.

[28] Bishops present at the celebrations [*cities connected with Edith Stein’s biography]: Archbishop Péter Cardinal Erdő, Esztergom-Budapest, Primate of Hungary, President of  Consilium Conferentiarium Episcoporum Europae; Archbishop Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz, ordinary bishop of  the Archdiocese of Kraków; Archbishop Joachim Cardinal Meisner, ordinary bishop of the Diocese of Cologne, Germany [Köln*]; Archbishop Kazimierz Cardinal Nycz, ordinary bishop of the Archdiocese of Warsaw;  Bishop Dr. Karl-Heinz Wiesemann, ordinary bishop of the Diocese of Speyer, Germany [Speyer*]; Archbishop Marian Gołębiewski, ordinary bishop of the Archdiocese of Wrocław [Breslau*]; Archbishop Wiktor Skworc, ordinary bishop of the Archdiocese of Katowice; Bishop Jan Kopiec, ordinary bishop of the Diocese of Gliwice [Lubliniec*]; Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy, ordinary bishop of the Diocese  of Bielsko-Żywiec [Oświęcim/Auschwitz*]; Bishop Frans Józef Marie Wiertz, Echt, ordinary bishop of the Diocese of Roermond, Holland [Echt*];  Auxiliary Bishop Heinz-Günter Bongartz of the Diocese of Hildesheim, Germany [Göttingen*]; Auxiliary Bishop Stefan Zekorn of the Diocese of Münster, Germany [Münster*]. Stanisław Krajewski, Wiesław Dawidowski and Bogdan Białek were present as representatives of the Board of the Polish Council of Christian and Jews.

[29] Benedict XVI’s Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2006. In: God and Auschwitz. Ibidem. p. 113-114.

[30] Compare: Manfred Deselaers asks where was G-d and where were the Christians? In: No Going Back. Letters to Pope Benedict XVI on the Holocaust, Jewish-Christian Relations & Israel. Ed. By Carol Rittner and Stephen D. Smith. Quill Press in association with The Holocaust Centre, London 2009. – Presented to Pope Benedict XVI during His visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, 11 May 2009, p. 65.

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