Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim
Before I attempt to answer the questions I have been asked, I would first like to send you my and my colleagues’ feelings regarding Auschwitz-Birkenau after a certain time period has elapsed. In response to the brochure, which I received on the 18th January 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim and the Maximilian Kolbe Werk in Freiburg and in response to the topics mentioned in it regarding the time spent in concentration camps, I would like to introduce myself to you first of all.
My name is Zbigniew Damasiewicz, I was arrested on 3rd May 1940 in Brzesko by the Cracow Gestapo and then transported to a prison in Tarnow. I found myself in KZ Auschwitz on 14th June 1940 where I was given the number 260, where, from block 11, I was transported to KZ Sachsenhausen where I was given the number 94113. Then I was transported to KZ Natzweiler/Komando Kochendorf where I was given the number 33587. In April 1945, I was transported to Dachau- I was given the number 150112. On the 29th April 1945, I was liberated by the USA Army.
I must mention that I was 17 years and 5 months old then – certainly no more than some of those who are asking me such interesting questions. It is the age where people want to know the truth about the problems that interest them.
I would like to answer the questions I have been asked as fully as possible. When we look at the field where the greatest battle of the nations for freedom and the dignity of humankind took place, at those endless terrains of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we are faced with dramatic questions: What caused such a great tragedy to happen? Where to look for its causes and beginnings?
During the period when totalitarian regimes were being formed, there was a current/movement called “scientism” which was becoming visible – this is the deification of the mind. This movement’s god was the mind, which was the highest authority. God was not important, nor was love, feelings, kindness, mercy or friendship. The Ten Commandments were ignored, violence and force were recognised and children were brought up in this way.
The Old Testament battle of David and Goliath took place, in reality, not on the pages of the Old Testament, but on the huge fields of Auschwitz-Birkenau. There a helpless prisoner of a terrible death camp, haunted by the atrociousness of hunger, disease and violence, came eye to eye with another man, armed with, quite simply, power. And here the wrong step was taken. In speaking to Polish teachers, female prisoners of KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau, who observed the behaviour of young SS men, they said the following: It is absolutely necessary to bring young people up in a different way – differently – that is to say, with an upbringing based on moral patterns entirely different from those of Hitler, based on an entirely different world view. Man should respect his fellow man on the basis of God and the Ten Commandments, which will surely bear fruit in the form of a correct upbringing of our generations.
In answer to the question posed by Anna Wonsack from Hunsfeld in Germany, I would say the following: My relationship to the Lord God is full of faith and love, thanks to the providence of God, I survived that hell on Earth. I believe and I claim that faith is the foundation of my life, for God disciplines those he loves with a cross to carry and shapes and deepens man’s soul through pain.
In response to questions by Katrin Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer and Sylwia Rapp from Hollabrun, I say the Lord gave us the strength to survive the camp – see above for explanation.
I would say the following in response to questions from Katarina Hartwig and Anja Lindig: Judging by the way the SS men and the camp authorities treated us, I never believed that I would survive the camp. We were treated like cattle; we were particularly destroyed by hunger, disease, selections after roll call, which, for many, ended in the gas chambers. Prisoners who had been diagnosed with typhoid or other diseases were gassed. I had to go through one such selection because I was a typhoid sufferer. The selection was carried out by Hauptsturmfuehrer Entress, but as I was recovering, he let me live while about 1000 prisoners were gassed.
Heaven’s will was favourable to me – I survived four camps, and the American Army liberated me from Dachau. The liberation took place in rather a strange way, because the front was over 35km from the camp. The American Army stormed us, and in doing so, forbade us from leaving because of the withdrawing Germany Army who might have liquidated us prisoners. Our guards were now American soldiers. During the night, artillery fire flew over us; the hum of the tanks could be heard. At dawn the next day, we were informed that we were free. Around 5000 died after liberation from exhaustion, hunger and disease. Sanitary units came into the camp, Army doctors from the USA with their chaplain at the head, and prayers of thanksgiving were said for our rescue in which I took part. I was extremely glad and happy at the rescue.
In answer to the questions by Katrin Groiss, Daniela Lazenhofer and Sylwia Rapp, I would say the following: Those memories cannot be erased, they remain alive in us, particularly at night, in the form of nightmares. In order to forget about it all, we tried to be in surroundings which had nothing to do with the camp and we would not talk about it. Nevertheless, topic number 1 when with my colleagues was the camp, even though we did not intend to talk about it.
In response to Mr Pfeiffer from Hollabrun’s question as well as Christina Steffen’s from Montabaur, I must admit that I never felt hate for the Germans, neither during the liberation, nor in later life. Poles, a Christian people, never feel hate for other nations which have done them harm, even those in the Second World War. The only thing that is left over from that time is that I can’t listen to German because it seems to me that somebody is running after me with a “mallet.”
Please read my introduction for an answer to Angela Hartwig from Jena’s question – where I speak of the Polish teachers’ assessment of SS men. I believe that the nations of Europe should return to their roots from which they grew, that is, to Christianity, for it means exceptional strength. It is a tragic thing that the stark rise in technological development is accompanied by the fall of mankind in an ever greater barbarianism and brutality. We should join the current of the revival of Christianity in Europe otherwise we will bring about a new Auschwitz- Birkenau.
Translated by Karen Forth