Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

Malgorzata Smetek - My Oswiecim

Oswiecim. What does it mean to be born here? Is it destiny? Coincidence? Warning? How is it to live in a place which for countless thousands of people is a synonym for dying, suffering, and pain and which is sometimes a tragic card in their own lives? Does the fact that I was born here influence my perception of the world? Should I be moved by the media coverage on the breaking of basic human law, although in the place I live all humanity’s laws were brutally broken, and the most important one -- the law to honor life – was violated over one million times? Maybe that is why I am particularly sensitive to such news coverage ... Living here means asking yourself lots of questions. It is not easy to talk about your home town.

In Oswiecim one can for hours search the bookshops for the one book, wander around narrow streets, relax in the park, and in the evening have a cup of coffee in a cafe. Of course one can also miss the bus, get a ticket, have an argument with a neighbour, or even come to like the official bureaucracy. All of that, however, does not interfere with the peaceful atmosphere of the town, this town which is grey in its colours. But this is a nice shade of grey, calm and dignified, such as can best be found far from the big city.

Nevertheless, beneath the picture of everyday life there is this horryfying truth about Oswiecim from 1940-45. And that is why this town is so special, so different from others.

I am happy that I was born and brought up here. It makes me stronger, it makes me hope and believe that evil will always be defeated by goodness and that a night, however long and dark, is always followed by a day. And this belief helps me to struggle with failures.

Thinking about Auschwitz, I have come to this conclusion: Man cannot fall below that hell, never in any form. And this makes me believe in and hope for a better future. There are wars, Nazism or its like finds its followers, Auschwitz tries to rise anew in different forms or, what is even worse, tries to “weaken its real picture.” But this present world is different. One would hope there is no ideology which would ever lead to such a tragedy as World War II. Of course this belief alone is not enough to change the world. It is just the source of many possible actions for bringing goodness and peace.

I remember when once in very angry mood I asked: Why there is no club in my town for young people to go to? Why is there no supermarket where families can shop? Why no factory where the unemployed could get a job? “What kind of future can I have here?” I have been thinking that I see no chances for me. Now I understand that any “corrections” would change the character of this place. I like Oswiecim just as it is. Maybe in some way I have become mature enough to live here.

I wish that people who visit the place of memory would consider returning here for reflection, prayer,and truth -- not only for the actual history but also for the truth about man. Such returns, as well as all visits to this place, are not easy. And maybe the more often you come here the more complicated everything seems to be as you make further attempts to understand. Standing in silence near the crematory ruins in Birkenau one looks for some hope, consolation in despair. But the only words that return are: “and when somebody asks you where hell is, you can easily tell them .…”

Maybe there should be no town next to the former extermination camp... No, no – I don`t agree with that. It is good that people live here. They are like “truth guards” – truth about Auschwitz which is difficult to accept, truth you cannot deny, hide, reduce or blot out from memory. For me, Oswiecim is a symbol of life defeating death.

Truth about the victims must remain. “Past is today, just a bit further.…”

That is why life and death coexist here, just like present time and history, freedom and captivity, Oswięcim and Auschwitz…. Goodness, which at last here defeated evil, asks now for reconciliation and peace.


Krakowska Fundacja
Centrum Dialogu i Modlitwy
w Oświęcimiu
ul. M. Kolbego 1, 32-602 Oświęcim

tel.: +48 (33) 843 10 00
tel.: +48 (33) 843 08 88
fax: +48 (33) 843 10 01

Education Department: education@cdim.pl
Reception: reception@cdim.pl

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