Joanna Barcik

“We have Kolbe”

Polish religious thinking as confronted by Auschwitz

Abstract. What is meant by “philosophy after Auschwitz”? How do we categorize thinkers into this discipline? Such categorization poses no problem where Jewish or German philosophers and theologians are concerned, but in Poland this type of thinking is commonly considered as virtually absent. Prof. Józef Tischner observed: “Heidegger says: ‘Man in his being was focused on his own being.’ Sartre says: ‘Hell is other people.’ Levi-Strauss says: ‘Hell is ourselves.’ Another structuralist says: ‘The end of the human person.’ And we have Kolbe.” The observation sounds ambiguous. On the one hand, it indicates the superiority of action, or “practical philosophy”, over purely speculative thinking, and it brings out philosophers’ ethical responsibility for theories they formulate. On the other hand, it suggests that Auschwitz as an event and a symbol may not have been thought out thoroughly enough. In this article, I seek to answer the question why the event of Auschwitz has had a different impact on Jewish and German religious thought than on thought in Poland, I discuss the ways in which the event comes to the surface, and I give an outline of Polish religious thinking “after Auschwitz”.

Poland is often said to lack systematic philosophy or theology “after Auschwitz”. This, as some claim, results from the absence of proper Polish theology in general. Nevertheless, the Poles do comprehend the Ereignis Auschwitz1 [Auschwitz-event] in some way. Among ex-prisoners themselves, there are believers who try to integrate that experience into their world-view. It is this endeavour that I will call religious thinking.

What is the basis for inclusion into this category? I have taken the idea from Józef Tischner, whose philosophy can itself be viewed as an example of such thinking. Tischner, who uses the term “philosophy after Auschwitz” (or rather “philosophy after Oświęcim”, according to the custom of his time) solely when referring to Prof. Antoni Kępiński (Tischner 2000: 410), centres on what this type of thinking ought to be like today. I have drawn on Tischner’s texts to list several characteristics:

  1. This philosophy has Auschwitz as its central event and point of reference, which leads to rethinking the concept of the human person, of what the human person is capable of and how they can be saved. Auschwitz cannot be ignored, particularly by a Jew or a Christian who perceives history as the fundamental medium of revelation.
  2. This philosophy focuses on the human person and their world, on all human affairs, including suffering. It is related closely to human life and experience, and interested in facts rather than in “necessary structures”. Why is this so important? Because there is no thinking separate from ethics. Tischner places much emphasis on this, especially when debating with Thomism. In his opinion, we have had enough of philosophy which fails to notice what is going on around, philosophy insensitive to reality, to human pain in particular. Its time is over.
  3. This philosophy highlights the relationship between thinking and the ethical realm. It may be viewed as a reversal of the Enlightenment attitude: instead of treating reason as the highest critical authority, thinking is now subjected to the judgement of the suffering person’s conscience. Similarly, Johann Baptist Metz states that theology after Auschwitz, subjected to the “authority of suffering people”, must always be attentive to the voice of the victims (Metz 2006).
  4. Philosophy after Auschwitz means critical thinking distrustful of all that resulted in Auschwitz. This critical faculty helps us to recognise that high culture and art, including the art of thinking, were unable to protect us against crime; even worse, the crime was justified by the very thinking which had pretensions to rationality and which developed in countries with thousand-year-old Christian traditions. “It makes one think,” Tischner notes. In a similar vein, Fr Franciszek Blachnicki and Fr Henryk Malak criticise modes of thinking and upbringing popular in their youth, claiming that neither humanist values propagated in scouting (Blachnicki) nor moral theology taught at the seminary (Malak) turned out to be sufficient support in the camps and prison. Consequently, the aim would be not only to point out wrong paths and alert wanderers to danger, but also to map out new routes. In order to identify the sources of the failure, philosophers ask questions which show their involvement or prove that they treat suffering as a problem. Thinking after Auschwitz means committed thinking which takes responsibility (instead of protesting: “Oświęcim? It’s not us, it’s atheists”).
  5. It means dialogical thinking, too, inviting others to participate, to join in the journey whose destination is yet unknown, to surrender together to the “attraction of truth”. In Poland, it also means co-thinking with the Jews, with whom the Poles shared their lot at least in part. Tischner emphasises the importance of relationship, though he wonders whether it is still possible after so many acts of betrayal perpetrated in Oświęcim and Kolyma.
  6. According to Antoni Kępiński and Gabriel Marcel, it is a “philosophy of tried-and-tested hope” (admittedly, there are also philosophies leaning towards despair). It should bring hope and consolation, but not ordinarily so, as Krzysztof Michalski (Michalski 2014: 165–166) points out: the philosophy cannot ignore the scandal of suffering and brutality, but it must give the strength to withstand them. The religious dimension comes here to the fore.
  7. Finally, since it is religious thinking that has an impact on Christian philosophy and theology, which profess that God reveals Himself through history, we cannot omit the image of God it entails. This involves responsibility too: responsibility of the Church for the face of God presented to people. Tischner is positive that the image of God that failed to respond to human needs in Oświęcim must become a problem in our religious thinking (also, or rather primarily, in theological thinking), as it has done in Judaism.

Points 6 and 7 concern religious thinking in particular, which is the focus of my article. More precisely, I centre my analysis around attempts at “thinking after Auschwitz” made from the Roman Catholic perspective.

Is there any philosophy in Poland which fulfils all these conditions? Are there Polish philosophers who think along the lines suggested by Tischner? We cannot expect to find systematic thought. There is, however, religious thinking as described here, i.e. thinking powered by the tension between faith and reason (Tischner 2000: 336–357), illuminated by these two realities, which it finds closely related. It is thinking conscious both of its lack of self-containment and of its autonomy – or better, of its interdependence. This philosophy is expressed in literature as well, usually in the form of testimony. It makes use not so much of ready-made answers – Auschwitz has exposed the inadequacy of all such prefabricated answers – as of penetrating questions, sharpened and highlighted, and it lets the victims speak. It is the latter trait that protects it most strongly from turning into ideology, which is a constant threat to all committed thinking. Who thinks in this way?

  1. Ex-prisoners, who bear witness and try to comprehend what happened, to place the events in the context of their faith and, in this light, to reflect on the human person. Some are theologians or philosophers, e.g. Fr Konstanty Michalski and Fr Franciszek Blachnicki. I think Antoni Kępiński, an ex-prisoner of the concentration camp at Miranda de Ebro, also belongs to this humanist group.
  2. Theologians who view Auschwitz as locus theologicus (Wacław Hryniewicz, Roman Rogowski, Tomasz Węcławski/Polak, Karol Wojtyła,2 then John Paul II). This group includes theologians who consider Auschwitz as an important symbol calling for dialogue between Christians, Poles and Jews (Fr Czesław Bartnik and Fr Waldemar Chrostowski at a certain phase of their work, Halina Bortnowska, Fr Stanisław Musiał, Fr Michał Czajkowski, Fr Łukasz Kamykowski, Stanisław Obirek).
  3. Philosophers who refer to Auschwitz more or less directly, treating this symbol as the starting point for discussion focused on anthropological issues (Józef Tischner, Leszek Kołakowski, Krzysztof Michalski, Karol Tarnowski, Jan Andrzej Kłoczowski, Tadeusz Gadacz).

The approaches obviously differ, but I want to draw on them to show what is typical of Polish religious interpretations of the symbol “Auschwitz”. It should be noted at the beginning that the Poles have their own tradition of the camp at Oświęcim, formed even before the role of Auschwitz in the Holocaust became widely known (see Kamykowski 2003: 105–115 and Horoszewicz 1992: 37–88). In his article under the significant title Auschwitz – symbol ofiar wielu narodów, sanktuarium Polaków (Auschwitz: a symbol of victims from many nations, a sanctuary of the Poles), Stanisław Kłodziński, an inmate of the camp and a close associate of Prof. Kępiński in his study of ex-prisoners, comments:

There is no need to argue that the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is a symbol of all Nazi concentration camps, of all such places of extermination. What does it mean, then, that it is also a sanctuary of the Poles? What does it mean to Polish ex-prisoners of the Oświęcim camp, who did not divide their fellow inmates according to their nationality when that hell on earth was active, and who still think it was the place of mass murder unprecedented in the history of humankind? Of course, Oświęcim is primarily a symbol of terrible extermination of the Jews (although other camps, such as Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec or Chelm on the Ner witnessed the sole extermination of the Jews) (Kłodziński 1990: 37).

The first characteristic of Polish thinking after Auschwitz is the anthropological perspective. Unlike Jewish thinkers, the Poles do not usually ask about responsibility of God – with the exception of Karol Ludwik Koniński, who voices the question known from the camps: why does God permit evil if He can prevent it?

A preposterous and naive theodicy: God uses evil as a means, a stimulant to good – as if omnipotent God could not stimulate good with good! A naïve theodicy, too: God “permits evil” – as if any permission by someone who could prevent it were not a positive act of willing it to be exactly so! Consequently, if God is the Absolute of Being, then – putting it bluntly – God wants evil (Koniński 1962: 72).

While criticising the theodicy, however, Koniński does not reject the faith – on the contrary, he believes it should be professed bravely without false intellectual props:

“The whole world lieth in wickedness” – true, but we don’t need Christianity to teach us this. Rather, we need Christianity to answer the question why the world lieth in wickedness. Christianity answers with the Mystery or with shallow theodicy, or else with demonic theodicy. To persevere in Christianity nonetheless and not to give up one’s pessimism too easily, one has to use that pessimism every day, drilling with naked faith and dogged hope to cut through to the other side, the silent side, the hidden side (Koniński 1987: 170).

On the whole, though, Polish thinkers tend to view Auschwitz as resulting from the fact that the human person has turned away from God. Crucially, this does not mean God’s punishment, but rather a “natural consequence” of the human failure to fulfil the commandment of love – as if we were faced with the disjunction: either the great commandment or absolute evil. If we reject the teaching of Jesus, we enter on a path to organised genocide. This standpoint is expressed both in ex-prisoners’ testimonies and in theological or philosophical texts. Fr Henryk Malak, an inmate of the camps in Stutthof, Sachsenhausen and Dachau, writes:

The will defends itself desperately when faced with the question: Why are things this way? The frightening, painful awareness and desperate certainty of the answer are a torture! All this because… because we couldn’t put into practice the greatest of His commandments, the commandment of love. It’s because we felt satisfied by words pronounced with preacher’s bombast, but we didn’t manage to go into the trenches of the fight begun for justice, for mercy, for the practice of love (Malak 2012:138).

Fr Kazimierz Majdański asks: “Does the phrase human person denote an absolute?”. He observes that tragedies like Auschwitz happen when people consider themselves in isolation from God. Some of them become absolutes, or superhumans, who usurp the right to enslave and exploit others, subhumans, with the use of advanced technology (Majdański 2008: 9-10).

This anthropological perspective is sometimes substantiated by the opinion that the question about God’s responsibility in Auschwitz would entail the image of God as someone bound to fulfil human needs. Leszek Kołakowski writes:

People ask: where was God in Auschwitz? Where was He in Kolyma, and in all the genocides, wars and atrocities we have witnessed? Why did He do nothing? But this is the wrong question. Leaving aside the fact people have done monstrous things to one another down the centuries, that genocide, bloodbaths and torture have always occurred and that evil – the evil in us – has never ceased in its work, putting the question this way smuggles in an idea of God as a being whose duty it is to protect the human race, through miracles, from the evil it does and to ensure its happiness despite its self-inflicted wounds. But this god – a god who functions as a magical power in the service of our immediate needs – was never the God of the Christian faith, nor of any other great faith, despite his frequent appearances in folk religion. (Kołakowski 2012:)
Another variant of the same approach is presented by Józef Tischner, who follows Emmanuel Levinas here. Both philosophers insist that the question about God cannot take responsibility off the human person:

Did God remain silent in Auschwitz? He did not. He spoke with the voice of the tortured and murdered. There is a close affinity between the faces of the victims of modern times and the face of crucified Jesus (Tischner 2005: 124).

Thus, instead of asking where God was when people were being murdered in Auschwitz, we should inquire about the presence and responsibility of the human person. This demands a kind of “atheism” (to borrow Levinas’ term): rejection of the image of God as someone who is directly responsible for every human action and who treats people like puppets.

This leads us to the second feature of Polish religious thinking, its educational dimension. Auschwitz as the failure of people separated from God demands that a new human person, remaining in a close relationship with God, be formed. This stance is characteristic of Fr Franciszek Blachnicki, the founder of the Catholic renewal Light–Life Movement and the teetotal Crusade for the Liberation of Man. Blachnicki shows the Virgin Mary (who has her own place in Polish philosophy after Auschwitz and in the entire history of Poland) as the anthropological model, though he disapproves of the quietistic Marian cult typical of the Poles, its cheap sentimentality. To him, Mary is the perfect embodiment of the idea of a person as someone who – according to Gaudium et spes – can fully find themselves only through a sincere gift of themselves (GS 24). This pedagogical tendency might be interpreted as a way of taking responsibility. Zofia Kossak argues also for aiding the Germans in the educational process (Kossak 1958: 113).

The contemporary reader of ex-prisoners’ testimonies can find it particularly striking that the inmates perceive Auschwitz both as the experience of ultimate evil and as a challenge for them to remain human.

Fr Kazimierz Majdański, an ex-prisoner of the Dachau camp, writes:

One could say the camps were one great scream. How they wanted to hate! One could say the camps were places of condensed hatred. Can anything else be said about them? It must. Although the worse reality created by man is now harder to see, one cannot content oneself with generalities. And it must be said above all that this was not the whole reality, but only its shadow. The camps were the evil in which the absence of good called for good with great effectiveness: “Overcome evil with good…” (Majdański 2008).

Fr Ignacy Jeż remarks:

“Only at the Last Judgement will we look at God’s scales and see which has outweighed: good or evil, and which has spread more: light or darkness” (Jeż 1993: 12–13).

It is significant that apart from using the metaphor of hell, ex-prisoners often describe their experience with the words gracenational retreatuniversity or victory. The incarceration was an opportunity to adhere to one’s values. Fr Prof. Konstanty Michalski realises it clearly:

In the battlefield, a hammer meets a hammer, a machine meets a machine, a tank meets a tank; in prison and in the camp, a hammer meets an anvil. The anvil cannot be made of crumbly steel casting lest the blow of the hammer should break it into pieces. In the camps, you were the anvil and your torturers were the hammer. The blows could be strong, terrible and well aimed. Sometimes, all the minute components of the anvil trembled, yet they were not allowed to fall apart. They had to stand together more and more and rid themselves of base slag (Michalski 1945: 2).

When talking about Maksymilian Kolbe, John Paul II chooses the word victory:

In this site of the terrible slaughter that brought death to four million people of different nations, Father Maximilian voluntarily offered himself for death in the starvation bunker for a brother, and so won a spiritual victory like that of Christ himself. (

Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński speaks in even stronger terms:

One can say that Fr Maksymilian Maria Kolbe won the war among the battling powers of the world. When the powers, boundless and unstoppable, fought one another, when hatred came to the fore and could not be overcome with even greater hatred – for no greater hatred seemed possible – one choice was left: to overcome hatred with even greater love (Wyszyński 2001: 249–251).

Acts of goodness and martyrdom in the camps make Krzysztof Michalski wonder about the source of such heroism:

The ability to meet evil with good is at odds with other human abilities. To activate it, we need to deny ourselves, to disrupt the life we have led so far. It requires an effort, then – an effort whose chances of success cannot be estimated, or rather an effort that must be in vain, if such estimation is based on our knowledge of ourselves. I can only hope I am able to answer evil with good; I cannot expect it on any rational grounds. … Would it possible to understand these biblical texts, would it be possible, despite everything, to discover the “divine perspective” in us and thus the goodness of all that is, if we did not encounter, from time to time, someone who can live like this, someone from another world? Someone who sees only the good, even in mud and shit, and who always responds with good, no matter what happens to them? (Michalski 2014: 170–171).

In order to be able to perceive others, including our torturers, as God’s children, we need an excess of good in ourselves. This is what Michalski calls the divine perspective, which stems solely from deep Christian experience. The questions asked in Poland after Auschwitz, therefore, concern good – possible even in such circumstances – no less than evil. Fr Konrad Szweda, an ex-prisoner of Auschwitz and Dachau, thinks this divine perspective is accessible to those who link their suffering with the sacrifice of Christ:

I witnessed the operation of prisoner Gut, a customs officer from Nowy Bytom … Pain consumed all his strength, dominated his consciousness, shook his whole body, but he remained in communion with God.

“I love you, Jesus,” he repeated.
His face was serene. He did not utter a single word of complaint or abuse.
“Are you in much pain?” I asked, leaning over.
“It is not me suffering, it is Christ suffering in me and through me,” he whispered back.

This uplifting answer helped me to understand something of the inconceivable mystery: it is not the sick alone, it is God within them who suffers, who loves with their hearts and reveals His greatness through their sacrifice. Peaceful willingness with which Gut was dying filled us with admiration and inspired us to be brave, even to endure martyrdom. Yes: to raise above ourselves, refine the faculties of our souls, summon up our strength, because only then, through our suffering, could Christ extend his Passion to save others. Generous acceptance of the incomprehensible will of God was the gauge of true love. Those who love have passed from death to life (cf. 1 John 3:14) (Szweda 1982: 56–57).

In my opinion, the key factor in the absence of systematic philosophy and theology “after Auschwitz” in Poland as compared to Jewish or German thought is that Auschwitz has not had such a catastrophic dimension for the Poles as it has had for the Jews. This is noticeable, for example, in texts by Karol Ludwik Koniński and Henryk Elzenberg. Both Polish thinkers place the wartime experience in the general context of evil in history (interestingly, they base their reflection on the First World War rather than on the Second3). Thinking about Auschwitz, then, seems to form part of the interpretation of history in which nations of the world, especially the “pagan” ones, ally themselves against the nation particularly chosen by God and the Virgin Mary. There is nothing new in this, it happened many times before with varying intensity.

This perspective is related to the belief in a historic mission of the Polish nation saved from the disaster, mission carried out through suffering, self-sacrifice and martyrdom. This thinking has a long tradition in Poland; it was the strongest in the Romantic period. Fr Majdański, for instance, draws on such a reading of history to comment that barely did the Poles regain their independence in 1918, when they had to face the Red Army, hostile not only to them, but also to God and His Mother, the Queen of Poland. The assault on the Poles meant an assault on the “Christian values”. The plan of the attackers failed, though: the Miracle on the Vistula happened at the intervention of the Virgin Mary.4

The concept of the special position of the Polish nation as chosen by God and of its mission to save Europe or the whole world is present in Polish religious thinking not only after Auschwitz.5 The 19th-century poet Adam Mickiewicz considers the national bondage of the Poles as a prerequisite for their resurrection and the beginning of their liberation of others. He states that the defencelessness of God is necessary for His complete victory, and he projects this feature, reflected in Christ’s kenosis and forgiveness offered to His killers, on the Polish nation (cf. Dernałowicz 2001: 197–198). In a similar vein, John Paul II, a heir to the Polish Romantic tradition,6 does not hesitate to describe Auschwitz as the “Golgotha of the modern world” (John Paul II 1979)7.

Maria Janion points out the messianic reading of Auschwitz by Zofia Kossak, who views the suffering of the victims as endowed with a universal redemptive meaning important to Europe as a whole. In the first (later corrected) edition of her book Z otchłani (From the abyss), Kossak defines Auschwitz as the only crime in the history of humankind which might be put on a par with Golgotha.

The ordeal of millions of innocent beings, their torment and terrible agonies must yield a crop that will justify their suffering and make it meaningful and creative. The dead have sowed the seeds. We, the living, have the task of growing them and gathering the reaped grain into the granary for the future generations to use. This duty must not be neglected (Kossak 1946: 237, as cited in Janion 2011: 60).

“The prison camp turned into a sacrificial altar of burnt offering, when added to the Passion of the Son of God, would no doubt be sufficient to save the world. This is certain, irrefutable” (Kossak 1946: 237, as cited in Janion 2011:60). What we have here, Janion comments, is both the symbolism typical of Polish messianic writers (the seed dying to bear fruit; the sacrificial altar where the lives of the innocent are offered to redeem the sins of many) and the theologically debatable theory that the victims’ suffering might somehow aid or perfect the sacrifice of Christ.

Fr Prof. Wacław Hryniewicz adopts yet another theological approach to Auschwitz, drawing possibly on Fr Johann Baptist Metz, who proposes that theology follow calmly the path from Good Friday to Easter Sunday with a stop on Holy Saturday. With the evil of the Holocaust often described as hell, this seems a valuable clue. Fr Hryniewicz writes:

Hell means everything that is incompatible with God. This notion encapsulates the reality of alienation from God. … The mystery of Holy Saturday … involves the descent into the depth of infernal solitude of the free creature. … The horror of the Holocaust has come to symbolise the worst hell on earth. My faith tells me that Christ was present in that hell of degraded humanity too, his presence humbled and kenotic, allowing the human will to be done (Hryniewicz 1998: 72–73).

On the one hand, Auschwitz has revealed the dramatic insufficiency of the traditional religious language (admittedly, this aspect is more pronounced in Jewish thought). On the other hand, the need to make the most traumatic events significant, to find some unconditional meaning of life that cannot be questioned even by death, seems to be unconquerable. I hope I have managed to outline the way Christianity provides words, models and symbols with which to try to understand what happened and is still happening in Auschwitz, to express the inexpressible in religious terms and thereby to endow it with meaning. Consequently, the mode of expression can potentially have a tangible impact on prisoners or ex-prisoners themselves, helping them not only to comprehend the experience and to make it significant, but also to survive, as noted by Viktor Emil Frankl (1962) or, in Poland, by Antoni Kępiński (2005) and Anna Pawełczyńska (1973).

The experience is expressed as a testimony as well, given on one’s own behalf and on behalf of those who can only speak with a borrowed voice. Cezary Wodziński aptly observes: “If talking ‘about Auschwitz’ is blasphemy, then being silent is blasphemy, too” (Wodziński 2010: 204).

In this context, it is interesting to note a difference in Polish religious thinking after Auschwitz between ex-prisoners and those who did not experience the trauma directly. Whereas the former often attempt to show the “positive” meaning of Auschwitz, the latter do not feel entitled to do so and tend to choose either radically negative speaking or silence. Wodziński comments on Paweł Śpiewak’s text Milczenie i pytania Hioba (The silence and questions of Job): “This is a lethal challenge to logos. To meet it, logos has to perform the miracle of transgression in its theological dimension, making silence bear witness to speech and confirm the power(lessness) of the word” (Wodziński 2010: 231–232). Similarly, though for another reason, Beata and Tomasz Polak warn against the temptation to “say too much” and to keep up the hope of finding some religious meaning (Polak and Polak 2011: 167–185).

Finally, I would like to explain the title of my article. The quotation within it comes from Józef Tischner:

[Fr Kolbe] is a living incarnation of the Polish philosophy of the human person, the philosophy we have in our blood, although we have nowhere described it in full. In the West, there is existentialism, structuralism, cybernetics, alienation, and behavioural theory to boot. The fact of Kolbe is absolutely beyond all that. No modern trend in philosophical anthropology has ever borne witness to the human person like Fr Kolbe did by his act. Heidegger says: “Man in his being was focused on his own being.” Sartre says: “Hell is other people.” Levi-Strauss says: “Hell is ourselves.” Another structuralist says: “The end of the human person.” And we have Kolbe. Not only him, either. How many people like him remain unknown? This is exactly the problem: the absence of our own philosophy of the human person combined with the extreme sensitivity to human affairs (Tischner 2000: 7–8).

When reading this and knowing that Tischner kept a photo of Fr Kolbe above his desk, I cannot but sense some bitterness here, too: it is great that we in Poland are capable of such deeds, but why aren’t we capable of thinking them through? We have the foundation: the heroic acts, now we need heroic reason to build on them, reason which would enable us to encounter other people on their way to the truth. Heroic thinking is thus indispensable, if we want to live wisely, in authentic dialogue with the other – if we want to create the area for freedom.

  • 1  The term das Ereignis Auschwitz comes from Dan Diner, a German Jew, who used the word Ereignis as understood by Heidegger, i.e. denoting an event which reveals being or through which being emerges in a special way. In their book Experiments in Thinking the Holocaust: Auschwitz, Modernity, and Philosophy, Alan Milchman and Alan Rosenberg link the term with Auschwitz (Milchman and Rosenberg 1998).
  • 2  When the organisers of the Second Vatican Council sent a questionnaire asking about important topics for the council to discuss, Bishop Karol Wojtyła answered with a text based on the question why “the 20th century that had begun with such high expectations for the human future produced, within five decades, two world wars, three totalitarian systems, Auschwitz, the Gulag, mountains of corpses, oceans of blood, the greatest persecutions in Christian history, and a cold war that threatened the future of the planet.” In his opinion, the reason for all this was that the great enterprise of Western humanism had gone off course: deeply flawed concepts of the human person combined with modern technology turned the 20th century into a slaughterhouse (see Weigel 2004: 43–44).
  • 3  I am grateful to Łukasz Tischner for pointing this out to me.
  • 4  See the Epilogue to You Shall Be My Witnesses, p. 164.
  • 5  For a more detailed discussion of this approach, see Fr Henryk Seweryniak (2010: 87–92).
  • 6  For more information on the dependence of Karol Wojtyła/John Paul II on Polish messianic thought, see Rojek 2016.
  • 7  Interestingly, Golgotha as a symbol of Auschwitz was mentioned earlier in the book The Face of God after Auschwitz by Rabbi Ignaz Maybaum, a follower of Franz Rosenzweig. Maybaum used it to make Christians realise what had happened in the Holocaust. The Jewish nation in Auschwitz was like Jesus on the Cross: an innocent victim whose sacrifice led to universal salvation. “The Golgotha of modern mankind is Auschwitz. The Cross, the Roman gallows, was replaced by the gas chamber” (Maybaum 1965: 36).


  • „Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim” (1991) 1.
  • Dernałowicz, Maria (2001), Chrystus Mickiewicza, w: Chrystus w literaturze polskiej, red. P. Nowaczyński, Lublin.
  • Frankl, Victor Emil (1962), Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, Boston.
  • Horoszewicz, Michał (1992), Symbolika Auschwitz dla Żydów i chrześcijan, „Collectanea Theologica” 62/2, s. 37-88.
  • Hryniewicz, Wacław (1998), Hermeneutyka w dialogu. Szkice teologiczno-ekumeniczne, t. 2, Opole.
  • Jan Paweł II (1979a), Homilia w czasie Mszy Świętej sprawowanej na terenie byłego obozu koncentracyjnego Oświęcim-Brzezinka, 7 czerwca 1979 r.
  • Jan Paweł II (1979b), Kazanie na terenie byłego obozu zagłady w Brzezince 7.06.1979. (
  • Janion, Maria (2011), Zagadka Zofii Kossak, w: B. Polak, T. Polak, Porzucić etyczną arogancję. Ku reinterpretacji podstawowych pojęć humanistyki w świetle wydarzenia Szoa, Poznań.
  • Jeż, Ignacy (1993), Błogosławcie Pana światło i ciemności, Koszalin.
  • Kamykowski, Łukasz (2003), Spojrzenie na „Auschwitz” – polski punkt widzenia, w: Dialog u progu Auschwitz, t. I, red. M. Deselaers, Kraków, s. 105-115.
  • Kępiński, Antoni (2005), Refleksje oświęcimskie, Kraków.
  • Kołakowski, Leszek (2012), Is God Happy? Selected Essays, Penguin Books.
  • Koniński, Karol Ludwik (1962), Ex Labiryntho, Warszawa.
  • Koniński Karol Ludwik (1987), Uwagi 1940-1942, Poznań.
  • Kossak, Zofia (1958), Z otchłani, Warszawa.
  • Kossak, Zofia (1946), Z otchłani, wydanie I, Rzym.
  • Majdański, Kazimierz (2008), You Shall Be My Witnesses: Lessons Beyond Dachau, trans. M. Klepacka-Środoń, New York.
  • Malak, Henryk Maria (2012), Shavelings in Death Camps: A Polish Priest’s Memoir of Imprisonment by the Nazis, 1939–1945, trans. B.J. Tucker, T.R. Tucker, Jefferson, London.
  • Maybaum, Ignaz (1965), The face of God after Auchwitz, Amsterdam.
  • Metz, Johann-Baptist (2006), Memoria Passionis: Ein Provozierendes Gedachtnis in Pluralistischer Gesellschaft, Freiburg-Basel-Wien.
  • Michalski, Konstanty (1945), Co trzymało w obozie?, „Tygodnik Powszechny” 1, nr 5.
  • Michalski, Krzysztof (2014), Eseje o Bogu i śmierci, Warszawa.
  • Milchman, Alan, Rosenberg, Alan (1998), Postomodernism and the Holocaust, Amsterdam.
  • Pawełczyńska, Anna (1973), Wartości a przemoc. Zarys socjologicznej problematyki Oświęcimia, Warszawa.
  • Polak, Beata, Polak, Tomasz (2011), Głos w dyskusji: krytyka religijnego poszukiwania sensu wobec Szoa w: tychże, Porzucić etyczną arogancję. Ku reinterpretacji podstawowych pojęć humanistyki w świetle wydarzenia Szoa, Poznań, s. 167-185.
  • Rojek, Paweł (2016), Liturgia dziejów. Jan Paweł II i polski mesjanizm, Kraków.
  • Seweryniak, Henryk (2010), Teologia po Auschwitz – perspektywa polska, Biblioteka Teologii Fundamentalnej 4, s. 87-92.
  • Szweda, Konrad (1982), Kwiaty na Golgocie, Poznań-Warszawa.
  • Tischner, Józef (2005), Idąc przez puste Błonia, Kraków.
  • Tischner, Józef (2000), Myślenie według wartości, Kraków.
  • Weigel, George (2004), Letters to a Young Catholic, Gracewing.
  • Wodziński, Cezary (2010), Kairos. Konferencja w Todtnaubergu. Celan – Heidegger, Gdańsk.
  • Wyszyński, Stefan (2001), „Idzie nowych ludzi plemię…”. Wybór przemówień i rozważań, Poznań.

Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy of Religion

Source: Przegląd Religioznawczy 2 (272)/2019, Warszawa, s. 151-164.

Translation: Anna Skucińska