Wałbrzych, 11.04.2005

My reflections

It is very difficult for us to return to those memories of those terrible war years, years of occupation and concentration camps that were scattered all over the country.

I had to go with my mother through camps in Zwierzyniec, Zamosc, ul. Krochmalna in Lublin and the death camp in Majdanek. At fault – the war and the fact that we were Poles living in the Lublin region where the Germans took particular revenge on the local people for their Partisan activities – the Partisans were very active there, often laying down their lives in defence of their country and the people who were living there. There were great upsurges among the Poles, it was Patriotism in defence of their homeland – something we value greatly today. We would really like young people to break off hate and enmity and appreciate and respect every person irrespective of who he or she is, white or black, and see in them a man, a brother, and offer their hand in brotherhood, love and understanding to everyone.

That’s what I would say to the young people who can’t read such messages in their course books, as mentioned by Nichole Lach, Daniela Lazenhofer and Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrun in Austria. I very much appreciate the present youth prayer meetings where understanding, love, help for the poorest, (of whom there are many in the world despite such prosperity,) shine through to support and help the poor and the ill through volunteer schemes.

It is very sad and I’m sorry that so few testimonies of former prisoners are published, of those whom God allowed to survive and be liberated. It is good that there are still living witnesses of those terrible sufferings and experiences, about which Ewelina Matyjasik learnt in her conversation with former prisoners – Mrs. Halina Birenbaum and Mr. Smolen. They who survived the tragedy of those years are able to tell the young people how precious life is and share with them so that there will never again be a repeat of captivity, death camps and war.

It is very important that German pupils have a feeling of belonging to a country that caused such evil and suffering in various nations. It is they who would like to contact witnesses of those terrible events, visit the sites of torture; memorial sites so that nobody would ever have to experience that, as Katarina Hartwig and Anja Lindig from Jena in Germany mention. They are full of admiration that former prisoners want to share their experiences with them, to which they listen with great concentration. As Verena Muckenhuber, Iness Reer and Andrea Hagendorfer from Hollabrun in Austria mention, the prisoners speak openly without resentment towards the German pupils, so that they can pass the knowledge on to the following generations about the causes of fascism and ensure that mankind can avoid a similar catastrophe in the future.

Young people ask us, the witnesses of those terrible events, what gave us strength to survive the concentration camps – certainly our deep faith in God that he would not leave us, that someday this gehenna would end, he gave us strength through every day until freedom came. The good God was and is our best father and carer, who brought an end to the evil that Hitler caused.

Time heals, as they say, it is difficult to live with hate your whole life. Fifteen or twenty years ago, hearing the German language on the street or on the train would cause not just tears, but sobbing. Many years have had to go by for us to be able to speak about our experiences though we are not indifferent to them – in fact we often share them with tears in our eyes – this is what I would say to Nichole Zach, Natalya Vonić and Daniela Eder from Hollabrun in Austria, who asked about our reaction. Pfeiffer from Hollabrun asked whether we feel hate towards the perpetrators of these terrible experiences – it is difficult to surround them with love – they were devils in human form. As Christina Steffen from Monatbaur in Germany asked, it is hard to hate the Germans who were also murdered by the perpetrators. They are also people whom we are to forgive, with whom we are to live in peace and friendship. The world is a small place and we all need to respect one another and support one another to ensure that nowhere do such terrible wars, murders, gas chambers ever happen again. This is the message to the young people.

There is no way to forget those awful experiences, you can only forgive.

Halina Sołtys

Translated by Karen Forth