Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

Letters from former prisoners

  • Urszula Schulz

    Dear Ewelina Matyjasik and Paweł,

    Dear children

    I would like to share a few feelings and thoughts with you because you are Polish – you are young and you live so close to that accursed place, which surely causes a psychological burden in you. I think the fact that you live so near the camp is not insignificant and must, in some measure, affect your thinking and your character.

    What we experienced was terrible and I hope it will never return. I will just mention I was 19 years old when I was arrested. It’s difficult for me to give you a recipe for how you should live. Just because I was there does not mean I have the right to influence your life. Just live rather normally and honestly. One thing is sure in the future: above all take note of the hands and the behaviour of the politicians whom you will elect. Look at their hands; check their activities so that such abusers as Hitler do not get into government. I cannot understand how the German people living in a so-called cultured Europe could elect Hitler as leader and then support his disdain for other peoples. I do not believe the explanation the Germans give that they did not know about his crimes.

    So, the strength of the future lies in you. I know it is a great burden, but unfortunately I can’t tell you any different.

    I, in fact, sympathize with you young people, for, instead of living a normal life and enjoying life, happiness and being carefree, you have been burdened, consciously or subconsciously by the stigma of that camp.

    Kisses, dear children, live happily. Warmest regards

    Urszula Schulz

     

    from the house of Łapińska

    I was born 19th May 1923 in Poznan

     

    PS. I regret that I have never had the opportunity to visit your town. After all, when I was in Birkenau working in the fields, I would look ahead and could notice people walking and cycling in the distance, which deepened my longing for freedom.

    Kisses once again, dear children.

    Regards.

    U Schulz

    62-041 Puszczykowo k.Poznania

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Danuta Potaczała - córka Pana Stanisława Konieczniego

    Moje refleksje – rozmyślania
    w związku z 60 rocznicą wyzwolenia obozu w Auschwitz – Birkenau

     

    27 stycznia 2005 r. minęło 60 lat od wyzwolenia niemieckiego nazistowskiego obozu śmierci w Auschwitz – Birkenau: Oświęcimiu – Brzezince. Trzeba wspominać tę wielomilionową rzeszę tych, którzy niewinnie znosili nieludzkie cierpienie oraz tych, którzy zostali unicestwieni w komorach gazowych i krematoriach.

     

    Obóz koncentracyjny Auschwitz został wybudowany przez rząd niemiecki w 1940 roku i utrzymywany było do końca (styczeń 1945) z budżetu państwa (Deutsches Reich). Ze względów ekonomicznych był zlokalizowany na terenie okupowanej Polski.

     

    W pierwszym okresie swego istnienia (do wiosny 1942 r.) Lager Auschwitz – obóz w Oświęcimiu - przeznaczony był głównie dla Polaków, a jego celem była zagłada polskiej inteligencji, polskich elit politycznych, gospodarczych i naukowych.

     

    Wraz ze wzrostem ilości więźniów zwiększyło się terytorium obozu, który przekształcił się w olbrzymi kombinat zagłady. W kolejnych latach stawał się obozem zagłady szczególnie dla Żydów, Polaków i przedstawicieli innych narodowości – mieszkańców państw okupowanych przez Niemców bądź z nimi kolaborujących.

     

    Zbrodnie dokonywane w obozie Auschwitz – Birkenau i innych obozach koncentracyjnych oraz zniewolenia narodów, pogarda, poniżenie nigdy nie powinny ulec zapomnieniu. Okrucieństwo wojny w latach 1939 - 1945 przechodziło granice ludzkiego pojęcia i poznania. Wraz z wybuchem drugiej wojny światowej zostały zachwiane wszystkie wartości moralne europejskiego dziedzictwa kulturowego. Okrutna bezwzględność nazistów skazywała całe okupowane narody na tortury, niewolnictwo i wyniszczenie. To naziści niemieccy zbudowali fabryki śmierci – obozy koncentracyjne, miejsca poniżenia i zagłady, gdzie wśród nieopisanych mąk psychicznych i fizycznych ginęły miliony ludzi.

     

    Niemieckiego – hitlerowskiego obłędu rasowego i niemieckiej żądzy władzy panowania doświadczyliśmy my polscy byli więźniowie polityczni hitlerowskich więzień i obozów koncentracyjnych, nasze rodziny wywożone przymusowo do niewolniczej pracy w głąb Niemiec oraz mieszkańcy całego okupowanego kraju.

     

    Pisząc o tym chcę podkreślić, że naszym obowiązkiem jest utrwalanie pamięci o niemieckich zbrodniach i przekazywanie jej następnym pokoleniom młodych Polaków i młodych Niemców. Mówiąc o obozach zagłady słowami: „Ludzie ludziom zgotowali ten los.” – nigdy więcej nie powinny powtórzyć się takie tragedie.

     

    Każdy musi wiedzieć, co wtedy się wydarzyło.

     

    Ojciec Święty Jan Paweł II będąc w Oświęcimiu pod „ścianą śmierci” podczas swojej pierwszej wizyty pielgrzymkowej do Polski w czerwcu 1979 roku powiedział: „zginam kolana przed tą Golgotą naszych czasów”.

     

    Świadectwem wstrząsającej rzeczywistości jest ojciec Maksymilian Kolbe zamordowany 14 sierpnia 1941 r. w bunkrze głodowym w Oświęcimiu zastrzykiem z fenolu.

     

    17 października 1971 r. odbyła się beatyfikacja Ojca Maksymiliana Kolbego przez papieża Pawła VI, zaś kanonizacja 10 października 1982 r. przez Ojca Świętego Jana Pawła II.

     

    Ten polski Święty Ojciec Maksymilian Kolbe patronuje w wielkim dziele pojednania obu naszych narodów polskiego i niemieckiego i żyje w pamięci jako symbol przestrogi i świadectwa.

     

    Na sztandarze naszego Związku b. Więźniów Politycznych Hitlerowskich więzień i Obozów Koncentracyjnych w Lublinie, którego jestem członkiem, figuruje obraz Świętego Maksymiliana Kolbego.

     

    Niech dodatkowym świadectwem pracy w duchu – pojednania – będzie założone w Niemczech Stowarzyszenie im. Maksymiliana Kolbego przez Niemca Alfonsa Erb.

     

    Chcemy i musimy zabiegać o to, by młodzież polska i niemiecka poznała tragiczną przeszłość okresu II wojny światowej:

     

    - ludziom młodym należy udostępnić ustne i pisemne przekazy o tym tragizmie lat wojny. Prace w tym kierunku powinny cechować częstsze spotkania informacyjne grup młodzieży polskiej i niemieckiej z byłymi więźniami obozów koncentracyjnych i innymi świadkami tych zbrodniczych czasów;

     

    - należy wzmóc i rozwinąć działania w kierunku odwiedzania miejsc pamięci narodowych, zbiorowych cmentarzysk, poznawania martyrologii narodów, dokumentacji archiwalnych w muzeach itp.;

     

    - podręczniki szkolne dla dzieci i młodzieży powinny zawierać prace o treści historycznie potwierdzone w omawianej tematyce, nie zafałszowane. Takie ukierunkowanie zależne jest od władz oświatowych i rzetelnych historyków;

     

    - należy kształtować wśród młodzieży zasady nawiązywania dobrych, partnerskich i przyjacielskich stosunków, wyjaśniających między innymi, że młody Niemiec nie musi czuć się obarczony winą za przestępstwa ostatniej wojny, ale że powinien on wiedzieć jak wyglądał okupacyjny terror i ile nieludzkich czynów popełniono wtedy w Polsce szczególnie w hitlerowskich niemieckich obozach koncentracyjnych;

     

    - wśród młodzieży należy ugruntować zasady moralne w duchu dekalogu i poczucie odpowiedzialności za ponoszone określone czyny.

     

    Kiedy wybuchła wojna w 1939 r. – miałam 4 lata: gdy w 1941 aresztowano mojego Tatę miałam 6 lat. Jestem córką śp. Stanisława Koniecznego (1908 – 1991). Mój Tata został aresztowany 27 maja 1941 r. w Majdanie Sopockim, a następnie więziony był w Zamościu i na Zamku w Lublinie, po czym wywieziony został do obozu koncentracyjnego KL Auschwitz, gdzie otrzymał numer obozowy 19548.

     

    W obozie Auschwitz – Birkenau był więziony do października 1944 r., a następnie skierowany do obozu w Oranienburgu – Sachsenchausen, skąd w czasie ewakuacji obozu w drodze do Szwerina uwolniony został przez wojska alianckie.

     

    W chwili aresztowania Tata miał 33 lata, żonę i czworo dzieci w wieku 10, 9, 6 (to ja) lat, a najmłodszy syn miał zaledwie 1 miesiąc 7 dni.

     

    Do mieszkania o 5-tej rano wtargnęli z łoskotem karabinów gestapowcy i aresztowali Tatę.

     

    W dwa lata po aresztowaniu Taty, w czerwcu 1943 r. – w wyniku represji – Niemców – w czasie pacyfikacji Zamojszczyzny – ja 8 letnia dziewczynka z Mamą i rodzeństwem zostaliśmy aresztowani i wywiezieni do Niemiec na przymusowe roboty.

     

    Po zakończeniu działań wojennych, w 1945 r. szczęśliwym zbiegiem okoliczności rodzina się odnalazła; wróciliśmy do kraju biednego, wyniszczonego wojną.

     

    Zwracając się do Was młodzieży, obu narodów polskiego i niemieckiego, pragnę podkreślić, że dziś jesteście uczniami – studentami, – ale jutro tzn. w najbliższej przyszłości, po zdobyciu przez Was odpowiedniego wykształcenia i wiedzy, w rękach Waszych będą spoczywać losy Waszych narodów. Nie zaprzepaszczajcie szans na budowę szczęśliwego jutra dla Was samych, waszych dzieci, waszych rodzin, kraju i sąsiednich narodów.

     

    Alfons Erb (1907 - 1983) założyciel i prezydent honorowy Stowarzyszenia im Ojca Maksymiliana Kolbego powiedział między innymi: „Jako Niemiec i chrześcijanin poczuwam się do obowiązku pracować dla pokoju i pojednania tam, gdzie najbardziej grasowały nienawiść i znieważenie godności ludzkiej – w Polsce. Z głębokim szacunkiem i poważaniem schylam czoła przed cierpieniami zadanymi w imieniu narodu niemieckiego dzieciom, kobietom i mężczyznom – nigdy więcej wojny, nigdy więcej obozów koncentracyjnych”.

     

    Niech te słowa Alfonsa Erb wzbogacą Wasze obecne życie.

     

    Danuta Potaczała

    - córka więźnia KL Auschwitz Nr obozowy 19548
    - członkini Związku b. Więźniów Politycznych Hitlerowskich Więzień i Obozów Koncentracyjnych Zarząd Okręgu w Lublinie

    20-325 Lublin
    ul. Droga Męczenników Majdanka 67.

     

    Lublin, 18 lutego 2005

  • Czeslaw Arkuszynski

    Warsaw, 04.02.2005

    Centre for Dialogue and Prayer

    in Oświęcim.

    Dear Fr. Dr. Manfred Deselaers!

    The mission carried out by the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in the work of reconciliation and shared responsibility for the future is worthy of highest honour and respect, especially for those who have undertaken the back-breaking task of creating conditions to favourable for mutual understanding and respect of people of a different race, religion or nationality.

    Life is full of examples every day of just how difficult this task is and just how extremely long it takes to bring mankind to the place of brotherhood, renunciation of xenophobia and revenge for what our forefathers did. I will mention a few observations and thoughts:

    […]

    I appeal to the German Youth! Do not fall for the propagandists from under the black, broken Nazi swastika that Polish concentration camps existed. There were never such camps on Polish territory. There were, in the Polish land occupied by Nazi Germans, Nazi concentration and death camps; both established by the Germans. The concentration camp KL Auschwitz- Birkenau was both a concentration and death camp, while, for example, in Treblinka there was only a death camp, set up by the German Nazis for one reason only – to gas and burn ca. 700,000 Jews. There existed more such camps. There was no single organization collaborating with the Germans in Poland in the years 1939- 1945. The Polish Red Cross did not collaborate, nor Caritas, nor the Central Welfare Council (RGO). In many countries of modern day Europe, in those that were occupied by Nazi Germans- in countries in which people dare to speak of “Polish concentration camps” there existed organizations, oh, even governments, which collaborated with the Nazi Germans. Youth of the world! Do not accept the lies which are presented you as truth! Otherwise, you will never unite nor like one another!

     

    I remember the year 1937. In Spała, the residence of the President of the Republic of Poland at the time – Ignacy Mościcki – an international scout camp was organized. Scouts and Girl Guides came from all over the world. I was only 13 years old, but I remember how Scottish Scouts and Guides dressed in their checked shorts and huge khaki felt hats walked together with Polish Scouts. This integrated, yet totally mixed group of young people was a hopeful picture, saying it was good that young people were coming together and a vision of a good and peaceful world was being created.  As we know, it never happened that way. As far as I remember, neither Soviet Kosmosols nor Nazi members of the “Hitler Jugend” took part in this “Jamboree.” Nevertheless, I think that the young people of the European Union countries should found one big organization based on the scout movement, set for themselves humanitarian aims, organize international gatherings, practise various sports, learn various languages, hold ecumenical prayers, sing and play together, love one another while competing in that which is lofty, good and noble. Then the evil history of the shooting of the Olympian (Janusz Kusociński) by sportsmen from other nations would not be repeated.

    Just one more reflection. Adolf Hitler was charismatic. He came to power when Germany was suffering a major economic crisis. Those circumstances were conducive to his murderous plans. He galvanized masses of people to fight against those he considered to blame for the bad economic situation. The guilty, in his opinion, were, of course, the Jews. He convinced the whole German people of this. Later, he coined the slogan “Lebensraum” to describe his extension plans. In this way, he triggered the Second World War. As long as he had military success, the whole nation supported him. Later, however, after the disaster at Stalingrad, when a withdrawal was necessary, he lost that support. The war dragged on, the Germans were bombarded by Allied planes – people were being killed in their own country – away from the front line. Many Germans began to consider more deeply what was the sense of war. Against such a backdrop, disputes broke out in German families. Leon Kruczkowski, a Polish author, put words to this in his drama “Die Familie Sonnenbruch” (“Niemcy” in Polish). I, in my memoirs entitled “Nie dać się zabić” I mention my contact with a German, my supervisor in Wansleben am See – Alfred (?) Hahmann. Polish and German young people should read this chapter. According to the mayor of Wansleben in 1997, Hahmann was a “Nazi.” But when people all around me were dying of starvation – he supported me by giving a piece of bread and a cigarette, which I then sold for a second piece of bread in order to survive. You can’t condemn him for being a “Nazi.” Maybe he was, but he regained his humanity. I told him about the tragedy of the Jews in KL Birkenau and he did not hand me over to the “Gestapo”. So what kind of a “Nazi” was he? And when I was in Wansleben am See and I stole bread from the Hofmann bakery for ten days, I’m supposed to believe that he did not see me? Today, I am convinced that he saw me, though he pretended not to, because SS men were standing nearby and he realised the consequences of revealing what he saw. That is tolerance.

     

    I mention these episodes as I wish to show that today’s Germans are not united. It’s impossible for the present mayor to imagine that Hahmann could stop being a Nazi. In a word, contemporary Germans have serious problems with themselves. It will take a few more generations.

    Respected Father Dr. Manfred!

    These are inexhaustible topics. I will hope to answer the many specific questions from the young people. The questions are short, but the answers cannot be summed up in one sentence.

    I greet you from my heart and remain

    yours sincerely,

    Czesław Arkuszyński

    ****

    Warsaw, 10. February 2005

    My answers to some of the questions of German, Austrian and Polish young people follow…

     

    .:. Nicole Zach, Daniela Lazenhofer, Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrunn - Austria

    Through your school’s directors, demand that the Ministry of Education in your country introduce obligatory lessons about the concentration and death camps set up in Europe by the Nazi Germans during the Second World War. After such lessons, organize seminars – and tests of knowledge on the topic. There were, of course, two large concentration camps in Mauthausen and Gusen and other smaller ones in other towns.

    .:. Frauke Briinning, Mirjam Laux from Hadamar, Katarina Hartwig and Anja

    Linding from Jena - Germany:

    I was pleased with your awareness and correct assessment of what happened. We, former prisoners, do not blame you for anything. Do, however, make other young Germans aware who have a different view of history. Regarding education in school – see above for my demand. I dedicate a chapter of my work to you “Wansleben am See” (it is near Jena) and “Wyzwolenie.”

    .:. Mirjam, Martina and Maria from GroBkrotzenburg - Germany, and Verena Muc- kenhuber, Ines Beer, Andrea Hagendorfer from Hollabrunn - Austria:

    There are, in man’s life, experiences which make a deep mark in their memory. These rifts cannot be covered up or filled in. That is why we keep telling our story. We ask you young ones to pass on our testimony. We do not have hate inside of us, but we cannot be identified with those who speak of the events without sorrow/ regret.  I regret that my education was put off by war; that I was left with physical and psychological damage, that I lost my father and our family’s impoverishment as a result of the war. All of this made my life poorer.

    .:. Nadine Brothagen, Juliane Noack etc from Mönchengladbach, Germany

    Girls! You’re going in the right direction. Keep it up!

    .:. Michał Chrzan z Oświęcimia -Poland and Pfeiffer from Hollenbrunn - Austria.

    Your interest will only be satisfied by deepening your knowledge of the beginnings and the aims of National Socialism. Ask your history and ethics teachers about this.

    .:. Katarina Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer, Sylvia Rapp from Hollabrun - Austria, and Anna Wonsack from Hilnfelden, and Katarina Hartwig and Anja Lindig from Jena- Germany

    Those who believe in God never resent him. May he who breaches divine law as arising from the Ten Commandments concern himself with the future of his soul. You must always ask God for help in trouble and ask for a better tomorrow. When I was dying from typhoid, I prayed whenever I was conscious. When I was free, I sought God, so I could praise Him for a happy ending to my fate in the concentration camp. I never lost hope.

    .:. Ewelina Matyjasik  from Oświęcim – Poland:

    In previous correspondence I made a short attempt to explain the circumstances that favoured Hitler’s rise to power. He promised the nation a better existence and in essence, he succeeded in it. Far too quickly, like an avalanche, did he galvanise the entire German nation. There was no other German as charismatic as he. And if there was, he was not courageous enough. We know the consequences of his ideology. 60 years after the war, German leaders apologised to the entire world for the crimes of the National Socialists. Upstanding Germans suffered much longer than we did. Ewelina, associate the behaviour of the Nazis with the slogan written on the buckles of their uniform belts – “Gott mit uns.” (God with us) That was blasphemy.

    .:. My answers to the rest of the German and Austrian youth’s questions are as follows:

    -      After the war, I became absorbed in research and work. My thoughts fled from issues relating to the camps. I had no desire to relive that dark period of my life. Every person, however, is an individual. I often visited the former Nazi concentration camps in Poland, German and Austria. My brother, on the other hand, went back to the topic only after 50 years had passed.

    -      How do I view the SS men’s behaviour? Reprehensible, of course. I have disdain for them.

    -      I did not feel hate for the German people. However, I, a Pole, encountered scorn for many years after the war while on German soil. Apart from that, I have been friends with a German from Hannover since the 1960s.

    -      How to prevent a repeat of such dark history? In Germany and Austria, by constantly being reminded of what happened during the Second World War. There are, however, many centres of evil in the world and it is impossible to be sure that mass murder will not be repeated. After all, straight after the war, there were many examples of national or governmental strife, as a result of which many hundreds of thousands of people were killed. I think that the way to curtail hate is by education. Churches of various denominations have a significant role to play in this. It is a difficult, arduous and long road.

    The young people from Hadamar – Frauke Bunning and Mirjam Laux from Germany think correctly. Through telling the truth about Oswiecim as widely as possible, by encouraging their peers to visit the Museum in Oswiecim, it will certainly be possible to shape ethical characters, which will resist the sowing of hate and xenophobia.

    Kind regards to my young friends.

    Czesław A. (131603)

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Polski Związek b. Więźniów Politycznych hitlerowskich Więzień i Obozów Koncentracyjnych w Lublinie

    Lublin, 22.02.2005

    Dear young people!

    We hope that you will be the generation that wants to live in peace and the understanding of that which took place during the war in the years 1939- 1945.

    Regarding the question of how to pass on the knowledge and conclusions you have come to, to the following generations, we believe that you know best how to and don’t need our help for this. It pleases us – former prisoners and concentration camp prisoners – that German and Polish youth meet together to discuss, to try to discover the truth and the reasons for why it took place like it did.

    Many of us former prisoners meet together regularly with German and Polish young people. There is still much interest on both sides.

     The question regarding our attitude to the Germans is rather insignificant. A third generation has grown up. Of course, it is hard for this generation to understand how their country with such a rich history and high culture could intend to destroy other nations. We know the outcome for those who suffered and for those who were the perpetrators.

    Presently, there is the possibility for us to get to know one another better. Young people surely take advantage of this. As a Sign of Repentance, young people from Germany come to the Museum at Majdanek on a yearly basis and work here as volunteers. We meet and cooperate with them.

    We are involved in the Maksymilian Kolbe Association. Together we visit former prisoners. We converse with them about what they experienced and about how they are coping with life now. Over the Christmas period, volunteer Friederike Romer travelled with us, and as she herself said, they often talked about the war and the Holocaust in her home. It wasn’t enough for her to learn about history, she wanted to understand it.

    The history of the concentration camps is not just Auschwitz-Birkenau, it is more as there were more camps in Poland, Germany and other countries. The conditions in all were similar.

    We would like to quote the words of the Holy Father during his visit to Majdanek on 1987 as part of his pilgrimage. In a meeting with former prisoners he said, “Never stop being a witness of those who were killed here. Never stop being a warning for all generations to come after you, because you carry the stigma of a terrible experience, not just of your nation, but of many whose names are written here. May all remember, may it be a reminder for future generations that man must not become a tormentor to his fellow man; that man must remain a brother to his fellow man.”

    We live in a time where conditions are right for our nations Germany and Poland to live in friendship. The cooperation of the young people must be based on truth, forgiveness and understanding of what took place in the past.

    May our remarks and observations be helpful in defining the further cooperation between German and Polish youth.

    Regards,

    The Board

    Polish Union of former Political Prisoners of Nazi Prisons and Concentration Camps

    Lublin

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Maria Mielińska

    Świebodzice, 25.02.2005

    My answers to the young people’s questions

    I was arrested aged 16 by the Gestapo on 8th March 1944. The village was razed to the ground on that day, older people were shot and the young people forced into cars and transported to prison, and the village pacified – all the buildings burnt to the ground.

    I was imprisoned in Radomsko and here in that prison the torturous interviews by the Gestapo began. The methods they used made it an inhumane ordeal. After one week, they transported us – female prisoners from Pawiak – that prison – into cattle wagons. The conditions were terrible – we were hungry – it was cold… it took two weeks for us to get to Ravensbrueck. When we crossed the camp gate, hell on Earth began. Female SS acted like beasts – they hit us, kicked us when one of us could not stand up in line. I wept that I was born, sentenced to such cruelty, that I found myself in such circumstances…. Beatings without cause… it wasn’t enough that people were just skeletons, but they actually took pleasure in beating us even more.

    The food was disgusting: dried bitter swede/turnip with sand, assorted bread with chestnut flour…but we ate it out of hunger because there was nothing else.

    I spent seven weeks in Ravensbrueck. During that time, I was experimented on. A white liquid was injected into my vagina (unknown to me even today) I had high fevers and intense stomach pain. It was very painful. The experiment was carried out by a uniformed Army man in SS uniform. For two weeks, we would stand naked in the yard as they did experiments and took pictures. After seven weeks, they transported us young ones to Neubrandenburg, to very hard physical labour to build a new Lager (camp) in a forest. It was very hard work with cement and bricks, we had to push carts up such big hills that sometimes our eyes would pop out with the pressure, but we were not allowed to rest, for the functionary would beat us until we lost consciousness. Every day was hell. The roll calls took place every morning and evening for two hours. We had to stand motionless for that time.

    You ask where we found the strength to continue living. Not everybody could survive, many preferred to end their lives on the electric fences.

    Did we feel hate towards our persecutors? Very much so. I don’t have the words to name what they were – vicious beasts without limits. I do not bear a grudge against the German people. They were not guilty of such inhumanity. It was Hitler who chose people to carry out such murderous work.

    Did I hate the Germans later? I personally have contact with many German citizens and I appreciate the fact that they take interest in this terrible history and, as far as they are able, they come with aid. They open their hearts wide to us, they simply want to make up for the harm done by their fellow countrymen of a previous generation.

    I hope that this will not happen again and that these monsters do not exist.

    Maria Mielińska

     

    From the house of Zafoń

    Born 29.09.1926

    From March 1944 to May 1945 Ravensbrück – Neubrandenburg, prisoner nr 30953

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Norbert Widok

    Poznań, dnia 28.02.2005 r.

    Centrum Dialogu i Modlitwy w Oświęcimiu

    Odpowiadając na list z dnia 18.1. br. i ustosunkowując się do tematu pragniemy pamiętać o tym co się wydarzyło. Z okazji 60-lecia wyzwolenia obozów, pragnę przekazać moje uwagi i spostrzeżenia.

    Jestem więźniem, który spędził w hitlerowskich więzieniach i obozach koncentracyjnych ponad 67 miesięcy. Aresztowany w połowie września 1939 r. za udział w obronie kraju, powołany do służb porządkowych, później jako uczeń gimnazjum, który w ramach obowiązkowego szkolenia tzw. P.W. /przysposobienie wojskowe/ wcielony do oddziałów samoobrony. Powyższe było powodem aresztowania i osadzenia w różnych więzieniach i obozach koncentracyjnych. Doznałem tam różnych upokorzeń i poniżenia godności ludzkiej do czego niechętnie myślami wracam, gdyż koszmar tych przeżyć nie daje mi spokoju.

    W czasie mego długiego pobytu były różne okresy kiedy nie chciało się żyć, lecz tylko silna wiara i ufność w Boga, głównie w opiekę Matki Bożej dało mi siłę przetrwania i doczekania wolności. Dodatkowym czynnikiem było to, że znałem język niemiecki, byłem młodym, zdrowym i wysportowanym.

    W tym ponad pięcioletnim okresie znalazłem się w różnych sytuacjach, ponieważ byłem w różnych okolicznościach i różnym otoczeniu ludzi i miejsc. Niechętnie wracam do tamtych czasów, ale dziś po dokładnym przemyśleniu uważam za bardzo ważne przekazanie pewnych refleksji - wrażeń okresu II wojny światowej młodemu pokoleniu.

    Zdaję sobie sprawę, że historię tworzą ludzie i w zależności kto ją tworzy i komu ona ma służyć tak jest przedstawiana.

    Uważam za słuszne, aby żyjący świadkowie mieli możność przekazać prawdziwe fakty – prawdziwą historię młodzieży. Nie pozostało nas dużo żyjących i mogących coś odpowiedzieć.

    Dopiero od paru lat mamy możność się wypowiadać, gdyż uprzednio był to temat tabu. Miałem możliwość spotkania się z młodzieżą polską i niemiecką. Różne odczucia mną targają. Jedno mogę powiedzieć – wszystko zależy od człowieka.

    Ludzie kształtują poprzez prowadzoną politykę socjalną, gospodarczą, narodową byt i życie. Mamy tego z ostatnich lat dobitne przykłady. Rasizm, przemoc, fanatyzm do niczego dobrego nie prowadzą.

    Dlatego ważnym jest, aby zastanowić się nad przeszłością, bo to jest najlepsza lekcja życiowa i aby nie być zmuszonym do przeżycia tego jeszcze raz – trzeba wracać do historii. Należy pamiętać, kto nie wraca do przeszłości skazany jest na doznanie krzywd i poniżenia godności ludzkiej. Dla tych, którzy jeszcze żyją i pamiętają te czasy ważnym jest, aby w miarę sił przekazali historię prawdziwą w oparciu o fakty. Fakty dość często przez niektórych ludzi jest fałszowana.

    Dziś po 60 latach zainteresowanie historią okresu II wojny światowej trochę wzrosło.

    Świadczy to, że społeczeństwo świata zmierza w kierunku zrozumienia wzajemnego i tolerancji religijnej i narodowej. Droga ta jako jedyna może doprowadzić do pojednania narodów co jest nakazem chwili i przyszłości, abyśmy mogli żyć w spokoju, bez nienawiści, arogancji i wzajemnego poszanowania.

    Wszyscy razem musimy pamiętać o przeszłości i dążyć do miłości i przyjaźni, czego ja jako długoletni więzień wszystkim ludziom dobrej woli życzę.

    Norbert Widok

    Polski Zwiąyek Byłych  Więźniów Politycznych Hitlerowskich Więźień i Oboyów Koncentracyjnych

    Zarząd Okręgu Poznań

    Aleja Niepodległości 16/18

    priw.:
    Ul. Laskowska 106
    62-051 Wiry

  • Albert Bebel

    Wałbrzych, 1.03.2005

    In May we will be commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Second World War and the liberation of the concentration camps and prisoners taken by Hitler. I am one of those who managed to make it to the liberation and I would like, dear young ones, to share a few reflections and memories from that period. I come from a family of emigrants who had to leave Poland for France in the years 1920-1925 in search of work and bread.

    In 1940, after the invasion of France by the German Nazis, I took an active part in the Polish resistance movement’s battle against the occupier in Northern France (Lens district) – by storing weapons and hiding partisans in our flat, by sabotaging the mines, printing and distributing propaganda material and helping victims of Gestapo and French Police repression etc. In September 1942, I was arrested by French Police and, after being tortured, I am handed over to the Gestapo in Arras for the completion of the investigation. In March 1943, I am sentenced by the German Military Court to 5 years in prison and deported to Germany, where I was imprisoned in Anrath bei Krefeld, Hagen and Wolfenbuttel until 11.04.1945; the day of liberation by the American army- I was emaciated and had been in the prison hospital and then city hospital in Wolfenbuttel. Thanks to Allied Army help, I returned to France on 17.05.1945 when I discovered that my mother had also been arrested and deported to Ravensbrück from where she returned in August 1945 and that my stepfather had been killed by guillotine in 1943 for his activity as a Partisan.

    I came to Poland in 1951 with my wife and son.

    I would like to emphasise that my time in Nazi prisons in Anrath and Hagen was brutal, but the last stay in Wolfenbuttel was terrible. As early as 4am, we were transported to an ammunition factory, where the working conditions were equal to slavery and torture, hunger never left us, and I would creep into the guards’ kitchen and eat the rubbish to survive. We were also taken to Brunswick, where, under the barrels of rifles, we were forced to clear the city of rubble while, at any moment we were at risk of death from bombs which had not exploded yet.  It was not uncommon that the return to the camp would take place on foot, in columns, and it would be accompanied by shouts from the residents and the throwing of stones at us. However, among the workers of the factory, there was a humane man called Albert Beichel, a resident of Wolfenbuttel who had been in the First World War, who would secretly throw me a piece of dry bread or potato ‘skins’ which, after I had put them inside an empty tin of conserve and put in an oven for a few minutes, I ate (without salt or any spices – a pig would not have eaten it without chaff (bran). I was 18 years old at the time and at liberation I weighed 45kg. I could describe more, but my memory fails me, I am 80 years old and a war invalid. I do not feel any hate towards the Germans for the harm done to me and my family by German fascism, for among them, there were honest people, patriots, anti-fascists who fought and died for a good cause and the dignity of man.

    The initiative of Polish and German young people to pass on the historical truth of our experiences in WW2 in concentration camps and prisons is very valuable. They are due great respect and thanks, as, unrelentingly, with every passing year, witnesses of those tragic events are dying.

    Sincerely,

    Albert Bebel

    ul. Olimpijska 1/1
    Wałbrzych, 58-301
    M. Kolbe Association in Walbrzych

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Stefania Bajer

    Poznań, 4 March 2005

    Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim

    Thank you for the letter which I received on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz- Birkenau. I was very moved to hear there are so many young people who are interested in issues surrounding the concentration camps and who want to do all they can to ensure such times are not repeated. That is why I have decided to write a few words.

    Firstly, I would like to introduce myself. My surname: Stefania Bajer from the house of Gałęska, born 23rd June 1927 in Leszno Wielkopolskie. I am a political prisoner of the concentration camps: Ravensbrueck Nr 56384, Neuengamme Nr 6362- subcamp of Salzgitter-Bad and Bergen Belsen.

    I lived in Warsaw from 1939 during wartime. The situation there was tense. Round ups of people off the streets, removal of people into forced labour in the Reich, shootings, arrests, terror – the Polish people began to rise up. Underground organizations began to form, illegal newspapers were published, and the Underground Army was spreading in the forests. My school friends and I wanted to do something against the occupiers. So in spring 1942, my two friends and I joined the illegal Scouting organization “Szare Szeregi.” From the autumn 1942 we were transferred to the underground organization of the AK (Home Army), where we began training as messenger girls (liaison officers). Shortly before the Warsaw Uprising, we swore our oath, pledging allegiance to the Army. During the Uprising, we were mobilized at the liaison office in the Warsaw-Ochota district at ul. Filtrowa 43. The insurgency in Ochota was bloodily and quickly put down by the Kaminski Brigade working under the orders of the SS. At the pacification of 11 September 1944, we received the order to evacuate the city with the civilians, because, as Insurgents, we would have been shot immediately. So via Zieleniak and the camp at Pruszkow, we ended up in the concentration camp Ravensbrueck.

    You have almost certainly heard enough about the horrors of the camps. You have heard what a shock it was to have all personal items taken away, to lose your surname, to be given a number and be dressed in camp clothing.

    Dear friends! You ask what enabled us to survive that difficult time. Our youth, (we were 17 years old then), our friendship, mutual help and support, hope that the war would soon be over. We tried to stick together as much as we could; instinctively feeling that doing so would make survival easier. Faith in God and His justice was also important.

    I would like to tell you about one event.

    In mid-September 1944, Germans in civilian clothing came to Ravensbrueck. Our block had to stand to roll call and, in groups of five, go up to a table where civilians were sitting with SS men. They looked at us, our arms and legs, just as on a slave market. I must say here that out of our three, I looked the most wretched. They would then write or not write our numbers on a list. We didn’t know what for. My friends’ numbers were written down but mine was not. Despairing that they would separate us, I overcame my fear and in my broken German addressed the German writing the list and asked for my number to be written on the list for I wanted to share the same fate as my friends. He looked at me, said nothing, but I saw that he wrote my number down. I have wondered more than once what motivated him to do so at that moment. I wanted to cry from happiness that we were not split up. As it turned out, about 300 women whose numbers had been written on the list were sent to Neuengamme – a sub camp of Salzgitter-Bad to work in an ammunition factory. We worked very hard there and in the beginning of April 1945, we were evacuated. They loaded us into open topped cattle wagons. The entire train was full of prisoners from various concentration camps. The train stopped at Celle station. During this time the train was bombed by Allied planes. As German historian M. Bertram says, there were ca. 4000 in the wagons of whom only ca. 1100 survived the bombing. SS men forced those survivors to walk three days, with no food or water, on side roads to KZ Bergen-Belsen. Whoever could no longer walk and was dragging behind was shot. I was already so weak and tired that I totally didn’t care anymore if they took my life or not. And here I must emphasise that thanks to my friends’ help, who (although they were also holding on by the skin of their teeth) encouraged me and held me up during the march, I made it. On the 15th April, we were liberated by the English.

    Our friendship has lasted until now.

    You ask how our life in freedom turned out. So, after the end of the war, I tried to delete that whole period in the camps from my memory. I did not speak or think about it. Sometimes I had nightmares. When I woke up though, I was glad that it was behind me. I was pleased that my children have a better, happy childhood without the memories of the cruelties of war.

    It wasn’t until years later, when the same demons of Nazism, intolerance and antisemitism began to raise their ugly head that I realised that I must not be silent anymore. We must remind people of this as a warning, so that various revisionists and neo-Nazis know that there are still witnesses of that period in history and so that history is not repeated.

    At the beginning of the third millennium when old Europe is uniting and borders are opening and when, thanks to modern forms of transport/ communication, distances are getting smaller, I would like to say to the young people:

    Meet together to get to know one another better, talk to one another to understand one another better, learn how to respect others even if their appearance and way of thinking are different from yours, so that thanks to this, you will not have to go through the drama of our generation.

    In the church in Niepokalanow, there is a plaque which was funded by survivors and dedicated to M.M Kolbe and all who were killed in the years 1939- 1945. Please allow me to finish with the words engraved on it:

    “Our shadows ask for memory, not for revenge

    Our fate is to be a warning, not a legend, for you

    If people are silent, the rocks will cry out.”

    Kindest regards

    Stefania Bajer

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Irena Zbyszyńska

    For the people who experienced the nightmare of the Holocaust, any return to those tragic memories is mental torture difficult to put into words.

    How could it have happened?  To break the moral code and the human right to live, to exist in such an inhumane way. The question seems purely rhetorical today.  For how can it be answered? You could blame the Nazis, their totalitarian, destructive and repressive regime.

    We know well how brilliantly they manage to turn people’s minds upside down with their mistaken theories. The German people, rightly proud of their high number of highly educated people in many fields, was not, obviously, comprised of only sympathizers of National Socialism. Fear paralysed people. The Nazi regime, like other regimes, made a public spectacle of punishing their opponents. But the free countries, the democratic ones looked on at the destruction of our people and there were not many righteous among them. For there were, possibly limited, forms of pressure, ways of protesting against the freakish plan of extermination of millions of human beings which was carried out without punishment by the Nazis.

    Did the tragic aims of political correctness require that? We were refused the right to exist, why, even to shed a tear by the graves of our beloved, the unnamed “numbered” died. From the bottom of our harrowed hearts comes the cry suppressed for ages. Never again allow such an insane scene to happen anywhere to anyone. An effective barrier to this must be the passing on to the young generations our baggage of tragic experiences along with the plea to work as widely as possible to rid the human mind of the virus of intolerance and hate.

    Respect for mankind, good, help for the needy are all messages spoken so beautifully by our late- lamented Pope John Paul II.

    The contacts which I had the opportunity to make with German young people fill me with optimism and herald something positive.  The engagement of these young people who are sensitive in the search for knowledge and the truth of those terrible times of disdain is wonderful.

    Develop and bring into this work enlightened people, moral authorities, clergy of various denominations, but in my opinion, it is parents and pedagogues who play the primary role. They have the greatest influence on the shaping of minds in a spirit of tolerance and a coming closer of the family of mankind. I also think that democratic governments have the obligation to bring in the legal means to punish people and organizations which spread destructive and inciting slogans. It seems to me such punishments already exist in Germany. It is possible to achieve the aim of reconciliation and betterment of interpersonal relations. It is our, as victims (survivors) of the Holocaust’s, obligation to the millions of victims.

    I, and my 6 person family, was imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto, and remained there, working on the repair and washing of German uniforms, until the liquidation. Of my family, I and my brother, who was liberated from Oswiecim and now lives in the USA, survived.

    My name is Irena Zbyszyńska

     

    Association of Jewish War Veterans

    Warszawa

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Leokadia Słopiecka

    Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim

    I received the Centre’s publication regarding the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz from my colleague Krzepina and the request to respond to the statements regarding the Nazi occupation and our youth made by young Poles and Germans. I have been wondering what to write for a long time…About the sadists under the Swastika who boasted about who of them had killed the most innocent victims or who raced to invent the most sophisticated methods of torture? Our youth was an ocean of tears, torture, streams of innocent blood and piles of corpses. Nobody, who wasn’t a prisoner in the concentration camps, is able to understand what these camps were like. They were not only death camps, but also a type of laboratory, in which cruel experiments were carried out as if on rabbits or rats. It is impossible for anyone to describe what happened in the concentration camps, no film can portray it; the human mind cannot comprehend it.

    Katarina Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer and Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrun in Austria ask what gave us the strength to survive in the concentration camps. When I was arrested, my four month old baby was pulled from his mother’s breast and thrown on the snow- covered yard. Indescribable pain, which I feel even today. I was young; I wanted to live so I could return to my marriage, to my family. It was faith in the victory over fascism and love for my nearest and dearest that were the factors that gave me the strength to survive.

    Anna Wonsack from Huenfelden in Germany is interested in my relationship to God. Ania, I can’t pray, I don’t know how. I bear a grudge against God for allowing such terrible cruelty to take place. I can no longer believe in his love and goodness. I still ask the question; why? But up ‘til now I still haven’t found an answer to the question.

    Katarina Hartwig and Ania Lindig from Jena in Germany ask about my reaction to the liberation. At first, there was indescribable joy, that our hopes for liberation had come true, that finally the head of the blood sucking hydra had been torn off. I wanted to eat ‘til I was full, find out if my child was alive, hug my beloved who had survived and then just die in peace. Those were my first wishes, which were not fulfilled because I still wanted to live. By the time our liberation from hell on Earth came, we had already experienced abuse, being demeaned, indescribable hunger, work beyond our strength, cold which we felt in our bones and marrow, and other methods of abuse. We looked death in the eye every day in the camp, we lived with corpses, and we breathed in the stink of burnt bodies. Even today I have nightmares about that time. I found my child, suffering from rickets, his stomach bloated, with diarrhoea and gaping eyes; being looked after by villagers who had taken pity on him. My heart was filled with hate then. I thought I would always live with hate. Luckily, it turned out differently. Thanks to the activists of the Kolbe-Werk, I started to regain my faith in the goodness of man. Their warmth and their sincere compassion, allowed me to take their outstretched hand. I have been a social activist of the Kolbe-Werk for many years. I work to contact former female prisoners with young people from Poland and Germany. There is no longer any trace of hate in my heart, which I am very pleased about.

    Nichole Zach, Natalya Vonić and Daniela Eder from Hollabrun in Austria ask how long it took us to be able to speak of our experiences. Dear friends, it is hard for me to speak of what I experienced even today. I would like to forget it very much, but I can’t. I and those women with whom I experienced the concentration camp misery realise that we must not be silent; that we must speak loudly and clearly about the inhumanity, suffering and the deaths of millions of victims, including those German victims. We are pleased that young people are interested in the causes and consequences of the Second World War. We, former male and female prisoners, are among those who tirelessly remind others of this very dark past, but not in order to entice hate but rather to ensure there is not a repeat of the concentration camps. We place special significance on the contacts we have with representatives of the young generation. The future is in their hands. Our mutual and sincere relationship with teachers and school children from the Gymnasium (Middle School) in Bad Kissingen, has, thanks to the mediation of the Kolbe-Werk, been going for 13 years. That is why, I, a former prisoner of Ravensbrueck concentration camp number 33 804, at the end of my life, appeal to the young people to do everything they can not to allow the cruel murder of children, women and men. I want to thank from the bottom of my heart those young people who are engaged in learning about our experiences, because I believe you will be activists for friendship and peace between nations.

    I send my warm regards to the activists of the Kolbe-Werk, the teachers and pupils of Bad Kissingen Gymnasium, for they, alongside other organisations and schools, are creating a wide base in the building of reconciliation and peace.

    Never again to war and the tragedies connected to it!

    Leokadia Słopiecka

     

    Wałbrzych

     Translated by Karen Forth

  • Marian Majerowicz

    I, Marian Majerowicz, former prisoner of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, of camp number 167715 tattooed on my left forearm, will, as far as my strength and health allows, speak of the criminal death machine unleashed in the Second World War.

    Sixty years have passed since those tragic events and the world still knows too little, still remembers too little. That is why, we, former prisoners of concentration camps and ghettos should bring alive the memory of those tragic days as we were witnesses of the destruction of the Jewish people.

    I am a first-hand witness of the sad and tragic history. It is my responsibility to share my experience.

    My family comprising 5 people (parents and 3 children – boys, the youngest being a 3 year old child), were, in the month of June 1943 after the liquidation of the ghetto in Zawiercie, transported in inhumane conditions to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Selection took place on the ramp at Oswiecim. Mother does not want to give up her child and that same day were killed and burned in the crematorium. After the liquidation of the ghetto, I along with a group of people, remain in Zawiercie, accommodated in a disused factory where we work segregating equipment and used army uniform, which was brought in from the western front. Two months later, my comrades and I were loaded into wagons and transported to Oswiecim. Here we meet our father, whom we barely recognised. On the 18th January 1944, my father’s number is listed during one of the selections. After saying goodbye on the 21st January 1944, my father dies, gassed and then burnt in the crematorium. At the end of January 1944, along with a group of 150 prisoners, I am taken to a sub camp of Auschwitz, Guntengrube- Jaworzno, which is about 30km from Oswiecim. There we met 150 Czech Jews. Part of the prisoners worked in very hard conditions – in a coal mine, and the other part on the construction of a second camp.

    On the 18th January 1945, the camp is liquidated. The remaining prisoners and I were loaded into open topped coal wagons, and in terrible freezing temperatures, were transported to Oswiecim. Here a transport was organized of ca. 1200 people and so began the so called “death march.”

    It is difficult to describe in just what tragic conditions my fellow prisoners were killed, hurried along the tracks, without food and water, beaten and abused, then shot and thrown into ditches.

    I was liberated on exactly the 9th May 1945 from Czech territory.  Of those in the transport, there remained only 160 people.

    The memories I have described above, are only a tiny fragment of my experiences. For the average person, it is difficult to grasp the circumstances in which people died. It is impossible to explain, describe or film.

    For the Jewish people, Auschwitz is, alongside Majdanek and Treblinka and other smaller camps, the largest cemetery, where it is difficult to find the ashes of loved ones.

    People died in gas chambers and in shootings and from beatings simply because they were Jews. “Doctor” Joseph Mengele, with the point of his finger, decided who could live and who had to die.

    Auschwitz has become the symbol of the Holocaust and the world must not forget this. We must, loudly and clearly, tell young people, for whom the camp in Oswiecim is just a museum. We must make them aware that it was man who caused such a fate for others. It was the fruit of hate and intolerance, and so all that German fascism represented.

    Marian Majerowicz

     

    The association of Jewish War Veterans

    Warsaw section

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Marta Baruk

    My memories of the concentration camps

     

    On the 9th September 1944, I was forced out of Warsaw along with many other women from the city and transported to Pruszkow – a town just outside Warsaw. There transports to many locations were prepared. I ended up in a transport which went directly to Auschwitz. I will not describe the condition or how we were treated. From the first moment of our evacuation, it was quite simply hell.

    When we were unloaded in Birkenau, people began to cry terribly. I asked why they were crying so. The answer – child, do you not know where they have brought us to? Look at those smoking chimneys. They are crematoria in which they are burning people. Fear pierced me that I had just escaped one hell and I had been brought to another. People were weeping terribly, embracing and hugging one another, encouraging one another. We survived each day thanks to this comfort, stoked up by the adults continuously. It was this that enabled us to survive the nightmare of the concentration camps. The faith in us that we would come out alive was very strong in us.

    Dear ladies from Germany, you ask whether we believed we would once again be able to live in freedom and how we reacted to the liberation. Faith in whether we would survive was, at times, lacking. We were very starved and emaciated due to extreme overwork. In the camp in Neustadt-Glewe, we were taken to the forest with picks and spades where from dawn to dusk, we dug trenches, eating only a small piece of bread and a watery soup without even a pinch of salt. It was not until evening that we ate this meal. There was barely any life in us. We accepted the liberation unenthusiastically. The most pressing issue was to eat our fill. All other issues were secondary.

    Ms Ania Wonsack asks about our relationship to God. I personally lost faith in God, and from conversations with colleagues, I know they also lost that faith. In the prayer “Our Father,” it says “Give us this day our daily bread” yet there wasn’t any bread and even if there was, there was such a miniscule amount that it was as if we hadn’t eaten anything at all.

    You ask if faith is a support, a foundation on which to build a future life? My answer is a definitive no! I used to be a very religious person, but with the passing of time and due to life experiences, I understood that that faith leads nowhere. You just have to be human, be able to work on your weaknesses and be friendly to other people, irrespective of his religious or national identity.

    Hitler was a demon possessed man, who, with the Pope’s blessing planned his shameful scheme. Did he not cry “I am eternal” after the attempt on his life in the Reichstag? The German people, of course, also recognise religion and God, so why did they put Hitler higher than him?

    After the liberation, for me as a minor, I did not have time to think about the gehenna of the camps. I tried to live every day with joy and do so today too. My nightmare has been and is the dreams I have of those times.

    It took a quarter of a century for me to be able to speak about the hell of the camps. I am neurotic and have a bad headache after every lesson – and this state lasts a few days. It is hard to speak of hate, because there are not many perpetrators still alive today, but in those terrible times our hearts were filled with hate for the death of so many innocent people. The perpetrators in the concentration camps were people who had been selected for their sadist characters.

    It took me many long years to change my attitude to the German people. Today, they are not the same people! Friendly, sincere, smiling! They make contacts willingly and are helpful in bringing aid through their work with the Maksymilian Kolbe Werk Association. It is not possible to count how much we have benefited for the needs are very great due to our age and illnesses. We ask that the German people continue their cooperation with the Kolbe-Werk. It is an organization which is considered very trustworthy.

    Everybody in the world longs to live in peace, and yet there are still wars. Innocent people are dying. Is it not enough that millions are dying daily as a result of natural disasters, catastrophes and diseases? The cause of war is people wanting to get rich, revenge and religion as well as lack of tolerance. All that remains for me to do is appeal to the nations of the world for wise leaders who think rationally and can foresee the consequences of decisions made, who can achieve aims not by their own whims, but who always consider the good of all nations.

    May there never, never(!) be a repeat in any nation in the world of the huge cemetery without graves that there is in Auschwitz-Birkenau!

    Marta Baruk – Elżbieciak

    Wałbrzych

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Danuta Pancerz

    I will try to briefly describe the gehenna of my childhood.

    When the Germans invaded Poland, the pogroms began. In the fourth pogrom, my parents, brother and whole family died – a total of 30 people. I was left all alone. The Gestapo took me to the ghetto and I was forced to work in a concentration camp in the ozocerite (mineral wax) melting the wax and removing the loam/silt. It was very difficult work. Life in the ghetto was a life of continuous fear and starvation – I was in the ghetto for two years. One day, the Germans started to take people away in cars to shootings. Shots and cries could be heard. I got away with it - I escaped – the Germans searched for me for a long time. I survived thanks to the help of good people.

    My answers to the questions:

    1. I was very young and wanted to live.
    1. One remembered God constantly and especially remembers when one needs help.

    We saw on TV how, for the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz, people of various nationalities prayed together.

    1. Regarding the Germans, not all were bad. In every nation, there are different people, but those in Auschwitz were sadists, it is inconceivable to abuse people like they did. My hands are shaking as I write about what I experienced.

    Thank you to those who remember Oswiecim, especially to the President of our Kolbe Association – Mr. Krzepina.

    Kind regards

    Danuta Pancerz
     

    Wałbrzych

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Zbigniew Damasiewicz

    Brzesko, 21.03.2005

    Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

    Before I attempt to answer the questions I have been asked, I would first like to send you my and my colleagues’ feelings regarding Auschwitz-Birkenau after a certain time period has elapsed. In response to the brochure, which I received on the 18th January 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim and the Maximilian Kolbe Werk in Freiburg and in response to the topics mentioned in it regarding the time spent in concentration camps, I would like to introduce myself to you first of all.

    My name is Zbigniew Damasiewicz, I was arrested on 3rd May 1940 in Brzesko by the Cracow Gestapo and then transported to a prison in Tarnow. I found myself in KZ Auschwitz on 14th June 1940 where I was given the number 260, where, from block 11, I was transported to KZ Sachsenhausen where I was given the number 94113. Then I was transported to KZ Natzweiler/Komando Kochendorf where I was given the number 33587. In April 1945, I was transported to Dachau- I was given the number 150112. On the 29th April 1945, I was liberated by the USA Army.

    I must mention that I was 17 years and 5 months old then – certainly no more than some of those who are asking me such interesting questions. It is the age where people want to know the truth about the problems that interest them.

    I would like to answer the questions I have been asked as fully as possible. When we look at the field where the greatest battle of the nations for freedom and the dignity of humankind took place, at those endless terrains of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we are faced with dramatic questions: What caused such a great tragedy to happen? Where to look for its causes and beginnings?

    During the period when totalitarian regimes were being formed, there was a current/movement called “scientism” which was becoming visible – this is the deification of the mind. This movement’s god was the mind, which was the highest authority. God was not important, nor was love, feelings, kindness, mercy or friendship. The Ten Commandments were ignored, violence and force were recognised and children were brought up in this way.

    The Old Testament battle of David and Goliath took place, in reality, not on the pages of the Old Testament, but on the huge fields of Auschwitz-Birkenau. There a helpless prisoner of a terrible death camp, haunted by the atrociousness of hunger, disease and violence, came eye to eye with another man, armed with, quite simply, power. And here the wrong step was taken. In speaking to Polish teachers, female prisoners of KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau, who observed the behaviour of young SS men, they said the following: It is absolutely necessary to bring young people up in a different way – differently – that is to say, with an upbringing based on moral patterns entirely different from those of Hitler, based on an entirely different world view. Man should respect his fellow man on the basis of God and the Ten Commandments, which will surely bear fruit in the form of a correct upbringing of our generations.

    In answer to the question posed by Anna Wonsack from Hunsfeld in Germany, I would say the following: My relationship to the Lord God is full of faith and love, thanks to the providence of God, I survived that hell on Earth. I believe and I claim that faith is the foundation of my life, for God disciplines those he loves with a cross to carry and shapes and deepens man’s soul through pain.

    In response to questions by Katrin Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer and Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrun, I say the Lord gave us the strength to survive the camp – see above for explanation.

    I would say the following in response to questions from Katarina Hartwig and Anja Lindig: Judging by the way the SS men and the camp authorities treated us, I never believed that I would survive the camp. We were treated like cattle; we were particularly destroyed by hunger, disease, selections after roll call, which, for many, ended in the gas chambers. Prisoners who had been diagnosed with typhoid or other diseases were gassed. I had to go through one such selection because I was a typhoid sufferer. The selection was carried out by Hauptsturmfuehrer Entress, but as I was recovering, he let me live while about 1000 prisoners were gassed.

    Heaven’s will was favourable to me – I survived four camps, and the American Army liberated me from Dachau. The liberation took place in rather a strange way, because the front was over 35km from the camp. The American Army stormed us, and in doing so, forbade us from leaving because of the withdrawing Germany Army who might have liquidated us prisoners. Our guards were now American soldiers. During the night, artillery fire flew over us; the hum of the tanks could be heard. At dawn the next day, we were informed that we were free. Around 5000 died after liberation from exhaustion, hunger and disease. Sanitary units came into the camp, Army doctors from the USA with their chaplain at the head, and prayers of thanksgiving were said for our rescue in which I took part. I was extremely glad and happy at the rescue.

    In answer to the questions by Katrin Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer and Sylwia Rapp, I would say the following:  Those memories cannot be erased, they remain alive in us, particularly at night, in the form of nightmares. In order to forget about it all, we tried to be in surroundings which had nothing to do with the camp and we would not talk about it. Nevertheless, topic number 1 when with my colleagues was the camp, even though we did not intend to talk about it.

    In response to Mr Pfeiffer from Hollabrun’s question as well as Christina Steffen’s from Montabaur, I must admit that I never felt hate for the Germans, neither during the liberation, nor in later life. Poles, a Christian people, never feel hate for other nations which have done them harm, even those in the Second World War. The only thing that is left over from that time is that I can’t listen to German because it seems to me that somebody is running after me with a “mallet.”

    Please read my introduction for an answer to Angela Hartwig from Jena’s question – where I speak of the Polish teachers’ assessment of SS men.  I believe that the nations of Europe should return to their roots from which they grew, that is, to Christianity, for it means exceptional strength. It is a tragic thing that the stark rise in technological development is accompanied by the fall of mankind in an ever greater barbarianism and brutality. We should join the current of the revival of Christianity in Europe otherwise we will bring about a new Auschwitz- Birkenau.

    Zbigniew Damasiewicz

     

    32-800 Brzesko

    Translated by Karen Forth

  • Maria Sołtys

    Wałbrzych, 11.04.2005

    My reflections

    It is very difficult for us to return to those memories of those terrible war years, years of occupation and concentration camps that were scattered all over the country.

    I had to go with my mother through camps in Zwierzyniec, Zamosc, ul. Krochmalna in Lublin and the death camp in Majdanek. At fault – the war and the fact that we were Poles living in the Lublin region where the Germans took particular revenge on the local people for their Partisan activities – the Partisans were very active there, often laying down their lives in defence of their country and the people who were living there. There were great upsurges among the Poles, it was Patriotism in defence of their homeland – something we value greatly today. We would really like young people to break off hate and enmity and appreciate and respect every person irrespective of who he or she is, white or black, and see in them a man, a brother, and offer their hand in brotherhood, love and understanding to everyone.

    That’s what I would say to the young people who can’t read such messages in their course books, as mentioned by Nichole Lach, Daniela Lazenhofer and Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrun in Austria. I very much appreciate the present youth prayer meetings where understanding, love, help for the poorest, (of whom there are many in the world despite such prosperity,) shine through to support and help the poor and the ill through volunteer schemes.

    It is very sad and I’m sorry that so few testimonies of former prisoners are published, of those whom God allowed to survive and be liberated. It is good that there are still living witnesses of those terrible sufferings and experiences, about which Ewelina Matyjasik learnt in her conversation with former prisoners – Mrs. Halina Birenbaum and Mr. Smolen. They who survived the tragedy of those years are able to tell the young people how precious life is and share with them so that there will never again be a repeat of captivity, death camps and war.

    It is very important that German pupils have a feeling of belonging to a country that caused such evil and suffering in various nations. It is they who would like to contact witnesses of those terrible events, visit the sites of torture; memorial sites so that nobody would ever have to experience that, as Katarina Hartwig and Anja Lindig from Jena in Germany mention. They are full of admiration that former prisoners want to share their experiences with them, to which they listen with great concentration. As Verena Muckenhuber, Iness Reer and Andrea Hagendorfer from Hollabrun in Austria mention, the prisoners speak openly without resentment towards the German pupils, so that they can pass the knowledge on to the following generations about the causes of fascism and ensure that mankind can avoid a similar catastrophe in the future.

    Young people ask us, the witnesses of those terrible events, what gave us strength to survive the concentration camps – certainly our deep faith in God that he would not leave us, that someday this gehenna would end, he gave us strength through every day until freedom came. The good God was and is our best father and carer, who brought an end to the evil that Hitler caused.

    Time heals, as they say, it is difficult to live with hate your whole life. Fifteen or twenty years ago, hearing the German language on the street or on the train would cause not just tears, but sobbing. Many years have had to go by for us to be able to speak about our experiences though we are not indifferent to them – in fact we often share them with tears in our eyes – this is what I would say to Nichole Zach, Natalya Vonić and Daniela Eder from Hollabrun in Austria, who asked about our reaction. Pfeiffer from Hollabrun asked whether we feel hate towards the perpetrators of these terrible experiences – it is difficult to surround them with love – they were devils in human form. As Christina Steffen from Monatbaur in Germany asked, it is hard to hate the Germans who were also murdered by the perpetrators. They are also people whom we are to forgive, with whom we are to live in peace and friendship. The world is a small place and we all need to respect one another and support one another to ensure that nowhere do such terrible wars, murders, gas chambers ever happen again. This is the message to the young people.

    There is no way to forget those awful experiences, you can only forgive.

    Halina Sołtys

    Translated by Karen Forth

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