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
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