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


Translated by Karen Forth