Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk, a German charity organisation helping former prisoners of concentration camps and ghettos, will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their activity this October. For this occasion a meeting commemorating the anniversary was held at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer from September 21st to 24th. It was attended by former prisoners of Auschwitz – people of trust working for the organisation, honorary co-workers from Germany, the management of the organisation and other invited people. The main celebrations will be held in Berlin on October 19th.

Everything started in 1964 when a trial of KL Auschwitz criminals was taking place in Frankfurt am Main. A group of Christians from the German section of Pax Christi made an atonement journey to Auschwitz. The vice president of the section, Alfons Erb, then said, “we did not come here to solve political or legal issues, but to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding, reconciliation and rebirth of respect”. While visiting the camp they met up with its former prisoners living at the verge of poverty. It was then that an idea of helping the victims of Hitler’s regime was born as a sign of friendship, respect and solidarity with them.

In 1973, despite difficult political and diplomatic relations between Germany and Poland, 13 German catholic organisations, with an active participation of Alfons Erb, created the Maximilian Kolbe Association. Its principle, developed on a large scale by the late Elisabeth Erb, daughter of Alfred, was supporting the reconciliation by way of personal meetings, because the personal contact between humans is at the heart of this organisation.

Engaging the beneficiaries into the organisation’s activity and building the network of self-help as well as developing direct contacts between supporters and beneficiaries, who in turn became “people of trust”, seeking out and helping other former prisoners, has been one of the most important tasks of the organisation. A great treasure of the organisation are its honorary employees. There are several dozen of them. It is thanks to their social engagement that it is possible to organise help and meetings or vacations in Germany for former prisoners.

The celebration that took place at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer included of a commemoration in the camp, where the participants laid a wreath and lit candles in the courtyard of block 11, near the execution wall. The delegation from MKW laid flowers in the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron of the organisation. On September 23rd, the jubilee celebration in Oświęcim began with a Holy Mass at 11:30 am. The program of the celebration consisted of a speech of the organisation’s manager Mr Christoph Kulessy, a speech by the deputy director of the Sate Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau Ms Anna Skrzypińska, a speech by a Ravensbrück survivor Fr Mikołaj Skłodowski and an honorary colaborator of MKW from Germany Mr Herbert Meinl. The history of the beginnings of the organisation and its history for the last half of the century, documented by many photos was presented by Dr Danuta Konieczny, the coordinator of MKW’s projects. The event was embellished with a performance by a quartet of musicians from the State Music School in Oświęcim, who performed pieces by Anton Rubinstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Jerry Bock. We thank Ms Jolanta Brandys, the director of the State Music School in Oświęcim for helping with enriching this event with music. At the end of their stay out guests ate a celebratory supper prepared and served by the staff from the Centre’s kitchen.