“We began cooperating with prisons in 2006, when the Museum donated publications to the penitentiary in Rzeszów,” said Andrzej Kacorzyk, organizational director of the ICEAH. “Later, we cooperated on a more extensive basis with the investigative jail in Cracow. This led to a visit to the Museum by a group of inmates. In the spring, Center staff will conduct an educational program inside the jail.”
A visit by Museum historians to the Sztum Penitentiary was an integral part of this important educational program. While they were there, they gave a series of lectures and presentations to the prisoners on the history and symbolism of Auschwitz. This vivid history lesson made a big impression on the inmates, and prison staff noted that it contributed to the rehabilitation process.
“We are making this a high-priority program,” said Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Museum. “The sessions we have held show how important and universal the lesson of Auschwitz is in the educational process. I hope that this first experiment in cooperation with prisons and jails will lead to broader contacts with similar institutions.”
Although the work of the ICEAH focuses naturally on students and teachers, the target audience also includes such social and occupational groups as clergy and soldiers. The outreach to inmates fits in with the Center’s philosophy of offering education about Auschwitz to ever-wider audiences.
Excerpts from written comments on the visit to the Auschwitz Museum by inmates from the jail in Cracow
Thanks to our guide, Ewa, we learned how inhumanely the German fascists treated prisoners of different nationalities during the Second World War. I learned about things that seemed impossible. . . . It left me with a sense of sadness and bewilderment.
I was here [in the Auschwitz Museum] as a child, but only now, as an adult, am I capable of understanding the scale of the tragedy that occurred here during the Second World War. I am now imprisoned myself, but the conditions I saw here exceeded my wildest imagination—both in terms of the way the prisoners were treated, and the very number of them. What sticks in my mind most is the piles of personal belongings (shoes, glasses, etc.) taken away from the prisoners during the first—and last—selection before their death.
Tadeusz from Łódź:
As a participant in the visit to the Auschwitz Museum I had a chance . . . to experience the emotions connected with the tragedy of people of various nationalities being held in the camp and the kind of death that awaited them. I thank all those who helped organize this program.
The crime of genocide committed by the Germans is terrible. However, the shocking thing is the methods used to murder hundreds of thousands of people who, after all, were innocent. It is hard for me to imagine how the tiny percentage of people who remained to be liberated could survive this terrible and inhumane treatment in such awful living conditions. There is only one reflection that anyone can take away from this hell on earth for millions of people: sadness and despair. At the same time, the question arises—how could people do this to other people, and what hatred and aggression lurks within human beings?
I was in Auschwitz and what upset me most was how many children died there. It upset me because I have little children of my own and I can only imagine what the parents went through as they watched.
Walking around the barracks and other places, I felt fear and terror, that anything like this could ever happen.
Andrzej J. S., 46:
Visiting the Auschwitz camp, I remembered the first time I was here, almost 35 years ago (when I was still in elementary school). I imagined the sense of fear and terror in the people imprisoned by the Nazis. What they must have gone through, what terrible conditions they were held in, how they had to submit to torture—only so that they could die in the end. When I get out of jail, I’ll try to come back here again. And I’ll talk a friend into visiting the Auschwitz death camp…
Jurek, 47 :
We were in the Auschwitz death camp on October 28, 2007. I had seen the camp on television—now I could see with my own eyes how cruel people can be and how people suffered there. The whole time, I had to fight to hold back the tears. To this day, I can see before my eyes a mother and daughter murdered in the camp by the Nazis. The mother first, and the daughter a month later. Their pictures hung on the wall in one of the buildings. The furnaces where they burned the bodies of the victims made a terrifying impression. After leaving the museum, I prayed to God that he would never allow this to happen again.
Kazimierz, 23 :
It’s horrible to think about how human beings died here in terrible suffering. It’s unbelievable what people can do to other people. On my way back to Prison, I was plunged into deep puzzlement and sadness. As long as I live, I will remember those horrible images etched into the landscape of the camp. It’s a kind of message and an awful monument to the consequences of war. P.S. Warmest thanks to our guide, Ewa, who took us around the camp and showed a great knowledge of the subject. Respectfully yours,
The people sentenced to Auschwitz went through a nightmare as a penalty for innocence. All because they were of a different race…
After seeing the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, I was, and remain, deeply moved by this place. The narration by the Guide, as well as the visible traces of the millions of tragedies that took place in this camp during the years of the Second World War, came as a shock to me. I come from Oświęcim and visited Auschwitz-Birkenau many times, but only now, as an adult and in the situation in life that I am in now, can I understand how much suffering, pain, and death emanate from this place. It only remains for me to thank all the people who made it possible for us to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, and in particular our Guide. Thanks to her knowledge and ability to convey this knowledge, I am inclined to reflect on this place, and on the people who lived and died in this place. Sincerely,