At the Auschwitz Memorial Site, on the site of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the opening of the Austrian exhibition “So far, so close. Austria and Auschwitz” took place. It was attended by, among others: former prisoner of the camp Marian Turski, Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński and President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen. – You should protect your generations from experiencing the Holocaust. In this way you will honor those who did not have a chance to speak when they died – said Turski to the assembled.
In his short speech, Marian Turski reminded the Austrians who made contributions to the memory of the Holocaust and Austrian prisoners of the camp. “They are part of my spiritual community,” said Turski, adding that only people with such biographies have the right to say that Austria was a victim of German National Socialism. He noticed that their fate did not remove the memory of how many Austrians served in the terror machine of the Third Reich in the General Government.
Marian Turski recalled, among others, the figure of Hermann Langbein, a communist and anti-Nazi activist, who co-created the resistance movement in Auschwitz, cooperating with, among others, Captain Witold Pilecki. – He was also one of the founders of the International Auschwitz Committee and that is why I am very glad that he is one of the heroes of this new exhibition – said Turski.
Turski also recalled the contribution of contemporary Austrian activists to commemorating the Holocaust. He addressed Hannah Lessing from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the Lagergemeinschaft Auschwitz, who was one of the authors of the exhibition project, who was visiting the ceremony. – The fruit of this effort is a mature and wise exhibition – he said. He added that apart from perpetuating the memory of German crimes, it is necessary to draw conclusions from them for the future. In this context, he recalled the words engraved on the Mausoleum at Majdanek: – Our fate is a warning to you. – You should protect your generation from this experience. In this way, you will honor those who did not have a chance to speak when they died, emphasized Marian Turski.
Austrian officials paid tribute to the victims of the camp
Earlier, the president of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, the chairman of the National Council (the lower house of the Austrian parliament – editor) of that country, Wolfgang Sobotka, and the deputy prime minister, minister of culture, national heritage and sport, Piotr Gliński, paid tribute to the victims of the German Auschwitz camp. They laid wreaths in front of the Death Wall in the courtyard of Block 11, where the Germans shot thousands of people during the Second World War. The vast majority of them were Poles.
Alexander Van der Bellen, Wolfgang Sobotka and Piotr Gliński, accompanied, among others, by Turski and the director of the Auschwitz Museum, Piotr Cywiński, opened an Austrian national permanent exhibition at the Auschwitz Memorial, entitled “So far, so close. Austria and Auschwitz”. It presents the fate of Austrian victims and the participation of Austrians in the prisoner resistance movement, as well as the involvement of people of this nationality in the crimes committed in the camp. It was created in the post-camp block 17 at the Auschwitz Memorial Site.
Gliński: The memory of the victims is our duty and responsibility
Deputy Prime Minister Gliński said that “the presence of so many people gathered here: survivors, representatives of Austrian authorities, religious organizations, people responsible for cherishing the memory and traces of the past, is of great importance.” – First of all, due to the presence of the Austrian authorities, led by the president, and what they want to convey to us here, today, by opening the Austrian exhibition in Auschwitz-Birkenau. There are never too many such days, full of prayer, reflection, memories and reflections on how low a man can fall, how precious is the gift of life, there are never too many, especially in this place. The memory of the Victims – those murdered and those who survived, but have already been irretrievably mutilated in their soul and body – is our duty and responsibility, which we must also pass on to the next generations – he said.
He recalled that “the brutal and planned actions of the German Nazi terror during World War II, clearly contradicting international treaties and arrangements, such as the provisions of the Hague Convention protecting the civilian population of the conquered country, resulted in thousands of memorial sites – testimonies of crimes in the territory of today’s Poland. that cost the lives of millions of lives. ” – Among them is the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, the most recognizable place of the extermination of Jews in the world today, but also the site of the extermination of Roma and Sinti and other nations, including Poles – this camp was created as a place of the execution of Poles in occupied Poland, emphasized Gliński.
The minister of culture pointed out that “we do not realize it on a daily basis, the world public opinion simply does not know about it, but over 90 percent of the perpetrators of World War II crimes have never been punished after the war”.
He pointed out that “the narrative of the exhibition in memorial sites should be based on the facts and accounts of the survivors”. – It should also be presented in authentic places – as it is done today in block 17, at the Austrian exhibition which we will open in a moment – he added.
– The Polish state, together with the international community, is observing the progress in responsible shaping of the policy of remembrance by the Austrian authorities, we appreciate it, although we ask at the same time: why is it so late? Why only 76 years after the end of the war? continued the Deputy Prime Minister.
– On behalf of the victims and on behalf of Poland, which for over seven decades has been taking care that all places of remembrance about the victims of the Holocaust, victims of crimes against national and ethnic groups, as well as religious assemblies, are secured for centuries, on behalf of Poland, which lost in Gusen a large part of my intelligentsia, I would like to thank the Austrian authorities present here for their concrete actions related to memory: for today’s exhibition and for the purchase of neglected real estate in the Gusen camp. We must all be aware, however, that this process is not finished, that the duty requires further action. The biggest challenges are ahead of us – work on the development of the remains of the camp and the creation of a memorial site worthy of in Gusen. Poland has extensive experience in this matter and is ready to cooperate in every possible scope – declared Gliński.
Gliński on “one of the most shocking places of memory”
The deputy prime minister assessed that, from the Polish perspective, Gusen is one of the most shocking places of memory: out of nearly 78,000 inmates from many countries, almost 45,000 were murdered or died as a result of the inhuman conditions in the camp. 27,000 Poles were among these victims. – As an international community, we must take care of these memorial sites, their preservation, their documentary and educational function and their role in the lives of the descendants of the victims who demand a place where they can remember their ancestors. Let us also not forget the importance and should continue to be of these places for the descendants of the perpetrators, for various environmental groups, including those who would prefer to erase them from their own memory and the memory of the world – he emphasized.
He thanked the representatives of the Austrian authorities for their recent actions and added: – I believe that such a moment will come, I believe that it will happen while the witnesses of those events are still alive, the survivors who managed to avoid the tragic death, that we will be able to meet in Gusen during a similar ceremony and to commemorate those victims with dignity.
– As a representative of the Polish government, the minister responsible for the area of remembrance, I once again declare my cooperation and commitment to preserving the memory of the crimes and their victims – declared Gliński.
President of Austria in Auschwitz: both the victims and the perpetrators were part of our society
The President of Austria said in his speech that “racism, anti-Semitism and National Socialism did not fall from the sky. Concentration and extermination camps did not fall from the sky.” “Auschwitz has not fallen from heaven,” he added.
He recalled that “anti-Semitism appeared in Austria even before March 1938”. – The ground was prepared and when the Germans entered in 1938, they were greeted enthusiastically at the Viennese Heldenplatz. The seeds that were sown grew and developed, he explained.
– During the pogroms from November 1938 and the violent proceedings against Jews, their synagogues, shops and other institutions, many Jews were murdered and many took their own lives. Neighbors who had previously coexisted peacefully suddenly became perpetrators and victims. Discrimination, dehumanization, and death and homicide have emerged. It took a systemic, almost industrial form. The Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp has become a symbol of this approach. Over two million people died here at the hands of the Nazis, including tens of thousands of Austrians, mostly Jewish and Jewish, but also Roma, Sinti, members of the resistance movement, homosexuals, prisoners, representatives of the Polish intelligentsia and many, many others – he said.
He pointed out that “even if Austria did not exist then, and was part of the Third Reich, many Austrians were still in leadership positions among the perpetrators, also in extermination camps”.
– We all know this story, and yet the state doctrine was that Austria was the first victim of the Nazis – he stressed. – Of course, you can argue this way, but it means forgetting the previous history, ignoring the fact that there were many Austrian citizens among the perpetrators – he explained.
– In 1978, the first national exhibition at the Auschwitz Museum was opened. This exhibition was a child of its time, but also a reflection of the personal experiences of the camp victims. They contributed to the content and form of the exhibition at that time – recalled the president. After many years, another exhibition was created under the title “So Far, So Close. Austria and Auschwitz”. – Distance has a double meaning here, because on the one hand we remind about the resistance of prisoners who were in the extermination camp, but also about the involvement of many Austrians on the side of the perpetrators – said Van der Bellen.
– It is our will and obligation to keep the victims in mind, but also to remind that not only the victims, but also the perpetrators, were part of our society and were shaped by this society (…) suffering which, admittedly, not the state as Austria, but its citizens will bring to other people – quoted former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky.
– We will do justice to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust by saying that thinking in terms of a scapegoat and violence can never again appear as an instrument of political action. (…) Never again also means that we must resolutely oppose any attempt to destroy liberal democracy and the rule of law of the state. Above all, never again means that there is no tolerance for racism and anti-Semitism, emphasized Alexander Van der Bellen.
The Germans established the Auschwitz camp in 1940. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was established two years later. It became the site of the extermination of Jews. There was a network of sub-camps in the camp complex. In Auschwitz, the Germans killed at least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews. Of the approx. 140-150 thousand Poles deported to the camp, almost half died. Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and people of other nationalities also died in Auschwitz.
Main photo source: PAP / Art Service 2