67 Anniversary of the Liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp

To mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Medical Society of Kraków, the Centre for Holocaust Studies at the Jagiellonian University, and Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum organised a session commemorating the victims of the Nazi concentration camps.

The session, which took place in the Aula of Collegium Novum, was opened by the Vice-Rector for Collegium Medicum, Prof. Wojciech Nowak and Prof. dr hab. Piotr Laidler, Rector's Proxy for Research and International Co-operation at the Medical College. Prof. Igor Gościński moderated the session.

In the first part of the meeting Mark A. Rothman, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Museum of Holocaust, delivered an address via a video link from USA. He commented on the sense of bereavement one feels while reflecting on the atrocities of the Holocaust. The reversal of nature, as he called the genocide under the Nazis, has been impossible to understand through all the years that have passed since the war. However, the commemoration of the victims leads to a better future as  "the only way we are going to ensure the 21st century is better than the 20th century is for us to acknowledge and embrace the tragedies of our past and, in doing so, re-dedicate ourselves to the future".

The event also hosted dr med Wiktor Krzyżanowski and dr med Tadeusz Smreczyński, physicians, former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and activists for the rights of Nazi victims. In his speech Wiktor Krzyżanowski related his wartime experiences. He mentioned forced labour in Olsztyn in 1941 and compulsory transfer to France where he started collaboration with the resistance movement.  He was arrested in 1943 and subjected to brutal interrogation by Gestapo, which left its mark in the form of permanent neurological disorders. In Buchenwald concentration camp, where he was soon after transported, he was a witness to the acts of pure sadism including  medical experiments on people and flagellation of inmates who were not able to proceed in the snow barefoot. He came back to Poland in 1946.

Dr med Tadeusz Smreczyński's wartime recollections included an outline of his family situation at the time (they were protecting a Jewish neighbour from the Nazis) and his own story. Having escaped from a forced labour camp in Saxony, he settled in Kraków and helped to smuggle people across the border and distribute leaflets against the Nazi regime. Unfortunately, he was given away by his colleague and incarcerated in the Mysłowice prison. In 1944 he was transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Block 11, infamously called the Death Block. In his speech Dr Smreczyński recalled dramatic scenes he witnessed: segregation of Jews just before execution, dead human bodies hanging on wires, murders of pregnant women, children and elderly people. „These haunting images do not allow to sleep and are impossible to wipe out from memory even after so many years", he concluded his moving narrative.

In order to honour Mr Smreczyński's commitment to the preservation of the memories of war, the Medical Society of Kraków awarded him with a Prof. Julian Nowak Medal.

The session also featured a lecture on creative work by painters who where prisoners at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp and who illustrated everyday life in the camp. Works by Mieczysław Kościelniak, Janina Tollik and Józef Bau were presented by Prof. Skotnicki and the employees of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum – Ms. Jolanta Kupiec and Ms. Jadwiga Dąbrowska.

Mieczysław Kościelniak's artistic studies were interrupted by the war. He was arrested in 1941 for his underground work against the Nazis. After a few months he was transported to Auschwitz Birkenau and sentenced to heavy physical labour. However, his artistic talent was soon noticed and he got lighter work in a carpentry. He made a lot of portraits and sketches depicting hard life in the camp, dead inmates, famine, operations, phenol injections, and sophisticated tortures administered by SS men. Smuggled out of the camp, his works were a precious source of information about the victims and the macabre they faced.

Janina Tollik, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts, was detained in 1942. She was found guilty of collaboration with the resistance movement. At the time she was pregnant but as a result of brutal interrogation and tortures she miscarried. While being in Birkenau, she memorized a great deal of abominable scenes, which she painted after the war. She made a lot sketches in the camp but the vast majority of them was destroyed. Her post war works present over-populated camp streets, interiors of camp hospitals and barracks, smoke rising from crematories, prisoners kneeling during unending assemblies and omnipresent corpses. 

Józef Bau was sent to the Płaszów Camp when he was 22. His graphics showed in an ironic way the realities of the camp and the tragic fate of the victims of the Nazi regime. The artist's secret wedding, which took place in the ghetto, was presented in Schindler's list by Steven Spielberg.

The session was concluded by the recital of Maria Sławek and Piotr Rożański from the Musical Academy in Kraków. The concert featured Frederic Chopin's works.

Link do materiału wideo