On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, young people from Oświęcim and Germany wrote letters to former concentration camp prisoners.
“We would be very happy if you could write down what you think is a message for young people. What should we pass on to our children and other people as a lesson learned from the experiences of your life?”
Many former prisoners replied. The touching documentation of this exchange and the “Message of the Oświęcim youth to the world’s youth”, which is a fruit of this dialogue, can be found here.
Oswiecim, January the 18th, 2005
Dear Witnesses of Time,
former concentration camps’ Prisoners!
The 60th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp’s liberation is coming soon. In connection with this day, the most important people- in our point of view- are You, former Prisoners, and the youth: witnesses of the past and creators of the future.
That’s why we, the workers of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim and Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk in Freiburg, hit on an idea. Idea of establishing contact between You and the youth.
Polish young people from Oświęcim, who meet regularly in the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer, and the German youth, who spent few days “on the doorstep of Auschwitz” or took part in meetings with former prisoners in Germany, decided to write You about their experiences, asking You for answers.
In many letters, the young express their big gratitude for the meetings in Germany and the visit in Oświęcim Museum.They describe deep impressions, sadness and sympathy, which they received thanks to those meetings, but also- they feel responsible for handing this knowledge down to other people. To let You find out more about the youth’s letters content, we enclose the summary below.
The young are also concerned about one thing they ask You to help them with. There will come a day, when- unfortunately- You will be gone… but Your message must be given to the next generations. Many young people would gladly accept this task. That’s why they ask: which way is the best to do it?
Paweł from Oświęcim describes it like that:
“In connection with the approaching 60th anniversary of the camp’s and Oświęcim liberation, in the name of my friends and my own, I want to express our respect and gratitude to You. We appreciate Your strength and courage in giving evidence of many nations’ Auschwitz martyrology. We hope the world finally hears Your calling and Your asks for stopping hate and starting respect for dignity and every man’s right to live. We, the young people, also want to support You in this work of peace. That’s why we ask you to give Your calling to the world into our hands- and we will try as hard as we can to proclaim it and make it not to be forgotten, for “nations losing memory lose their lives”.
Students from Mainz ask You:
“We would be very glad if You wrote- once again- what in Your opinion is a message to young people. What should we say to our children and to the other people as a lesson based on Your lives’ experiences?”
They ask you for some kind of a “Testament”, which can become a suggestion for their future lives.
We ask You heartily: find some time to answer the youth and- indirectly- us.
If You know the Witnesses we didn’t reach, please, show Them this message with a cordial invitation to taking part in this project.
We kindly ask You: send the answer to the address of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim. A copy will be given to Maximilian- Kolbe- Werk and, of course, to the youth.
About 100 young people from Oświęcim will take part in the World Youth Days with the Pope, in Cologne, 2005. It’s possible we manage to pass on the message from Witnesses, which would be given by the Oświęcim youth to the world’s young people.
Also, on our Centre for Dialogue and Prayer internet site, we want to publish some of the letters. Maybe we create a small brochure…
Centrum Dialogu i Modlitwy w Oświęcimiu
ul. M. Kolbego 1
PL 32 602 Oświęcim
tel. +48 (33) 8431000
fax +48 (33) 8431001
Maximilian – Kolbe – Werk e. V.
D 79104 Freiburg
Tel. +49 (761) 200-348
Fax +49 (761) 200-596
To show you the content and intention of letters, we give into Your hands this summary, mostly made of quotes, to express the voice of youth:
“First day we visited the Birkenau camp. The tension and the atmosphere of this place stayed for a long time in our memories. Destroyed crematories emanated with crimes of those years. Speechless, we stood before them and we couldn’t believe what’s happened here” (Pfeiffer from Hollabrunn in Austria).
“Deeply moved by the lot of Witnesses, after the meetings with them, they say, that they learned things ‘which can’t be found in any handbook’” (Nicole Zach, Daniela Lazenhofer, Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrunn in Austria).
“Meetings with former Prisoners: Halina Birenbaum and Mr. Smoleń, for the first time made me imagine the hard situation in the camp. Each day spent in there brought fear, pain and suffering. For the first time I realized how horrible that “life” really was. I never felt it so deeply before.” (Ewelina Matyjasik from Oświęcim)
Not only experiences from the camp or stories about personal suffering shocked the young people. It was Your will, strength and love of life, which can be shown only by those, who survived, the youth felt much deeper. This is how Anna Wonsack describes it after the meeting with Mr. Henryk Mandelbaum:
“ How can someone, who had to spend a part of his life in this place; who still remembers the crimes, can be such a warm person?(…)As we were sitting together in the evening, he was beaming all the time. He was glad the youth shows interest and wants to avoid forgetting. For goodbye, he said to us: “Live your own life- nothing more!!!”” (Anna Wonsack from Huenfelden in Germany).
Ewelina writes: “Thank You, dear Witnesses of the Time, for helping us know the truth by Your stories; for helping us shape our characters.” (E. Matyjasik from Oświęcim).
German students write: “We are fully aware that this suffering was caused by Germans”. (Frauke Bruenning, Mirjam Laux from Hadamar in Germany).they know they are affiliated with the nation, from which the criminals descended, “though, we hope you give a chance to our generation which does not deny the crimes but judges them strictly, and that we will not carry a burden of our ancestors’ guilt”. Partly, they also think that “in German schools there are not enough talks about national-socialistic past. That’s why direct confrontations with it- thanks to Witnesses’ testimonies and visiting the memory places become more important”. (Katarina Hartwig and Anja Lindig from Jena in Germany).
Impressions from the Museum and the meetings with Witnesses will accompany them for a long time, showing what future they can create:
“We were very impressed- and also ashamed, because those Witnesses were telling us, Germans, about their tragedy, with such a strength, frankness and with no soreness. Their strength and will of reconciliation showed us, that we- successors- are responsible for giving their message to others. We and the others want to remember what happened…” (Mirjam, Martina and Maria from Grosskrotzenburg in Germany).
Some of the young people express it even clearer:
“We all think, that the message about those crimes and bestiality should not be forgotten. We appreciate and admire people, who- against the suffering they had to survive- are ready to talk about it again and again, warning the humanity, so that we could avoid similar catastrophes in the future.”(Verena Muckenhuber, Ines Beer, Andrea Hagendorfer from Hollabrunn in Austria).
They often transmit their experiences to others, just like it happened with the engaged group from Moenchengladbach, who- after visiting Oświęcim- prepared a photo exhibition, which was presented in school and public services’ buildings. (Nadine Brothagen, Juliane Noack and others from Moenchengladbach in Germany).
Apart from these experiences, they also have many questions for You. We mention some of them:
“After watching all those places and meetings with Witnesses, I can ask myself only one question: why did it happen? Who needed death of many thousands of people?” (Michał Chrzan from Oświęcim).
„In spite of our visit in Auschwitz it’s hard for us to imagine what happened there. We still ask ourselves: how could a man do something like that to another man…”(Pfeiffer from Hollabrunn in Austria).
“We would like to know what gave You strength to survive the concentration camp?” (Katarina Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer, Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrunn in Austria).
“Did You believe you would be free again and how did You react to liberation?” (Katarina Hartwig and Anja Lindig from Jena in Germany).
“I wonder what is the attitude of Survivors towards God. Do they feel soreness to God? ‘Why did You let this happen?’ Or is the faith a foundation, on which you can build life after those horrible days in Auschwitz?” (Anna Wonsack from Huenfelden in Germany).
“Why were so many ‘religious’ people tricked by the delusive vision of a better world, “better race”? Why did no one react, and if someone did, why couldn’t he thrill the crowds like Hitler did? Why did so many people have to lose their houses, families, or even lives? It didn’t give anything to the evil men: they didn’t become beautiful, young, immortal. In opposite: they lost their lives, not gaining anything instead.” (Ewelina Matyjasik from Oświęcim).
„Where did Your strength to live with Your memories come from?” (Katrin Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer, Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrunn in Austria).
“Do you feel hate to the perpetrators?” (Pfeiffer from Hollabrunn in Austria).
“How did you judge the contemporary behaviour of the SS- men? Do you judge them differently now?” ( Angela Hartwig from Jena in Germany).
“Did you hate Germans later on?” (Christina Steffen from Montabaur in Germany).
You can feel how much the young people want to know more and to deliver this knowledge further: “Days spent in Poland during the project were very close to us and let us take a different look at the world” (Verena Muckenhuber, Ines Beer, Andrea Hagendorfer from Hollabrunn in Austria), and from this different point of view these young people ask: “What message would You like to give to us for our own journey?” (Jelena Bublov, Astrid Prokop, Mannela Mayer from Hollabrunn).
It’s especially important “to know Your opinion on a way of preventing this part of our history’s repetition… Which reasonable possibilities and ways of explaining things that happened to the next generations would You suggest?” (Katarina Harting and Anja Lindig from Jena in Germany).
Two students from Hadamar say it that way: “Those memories seem so horrible to us but we are aware they are true. We will try to deliver further this truth about Auschwitz atrocities. We hope we support You in this task and we want to do it as well as we can. We feel in a special way related to You and to what You survived, because we are Germans. We hope it’s not a problem for You. We will try to deliver our experiences further and give reasons, especially to the youth, for taking care of Auschwitz subject matter. “ (Frauke Buenning, Mirjam Laux from Hadamar in Germany).
Copies of all letters are available and, of course, at Your disposal.
Translation by Magda Poniedziałek