The 22nd meeting of the International Auschwitz Council was held at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland. The session was attended by Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage Małgorzata Omilanowska and was presided over by Professor Władysław Bartoszewski. This was the last meeting of the second term IAC.
“I consider it a privilege to be able to thank you for six years of hard, and sometimes unrewarding work, whose significance goes far beyond our times. We can never doubt that as the International Auschwitz Council, you are working for the benefit of universal memory, memory about an event which may be of gravest importance in the contemporary history of humanity,” said Prime Minister Tusk in the speech opening the session of the Council.
Before the session, the Prime Minister sent a special letter to the members of the International Auschwitz Council, where he wrote that the Council guarantees the stability of principles forming a basis of care for the Holocaust Memorials in Poland and independence from current political issues. “I think that the best evidence for this is the fundamental change in the approach to martyrological museums in Poland, which is particularly visible at the example of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. In my opinion, the years 2006- 2011 are a breakthrough period for this facility since the moment of its establishment after WWII and creation of the permanent exhibition,” we can read in the letter from the Prime Minister.
During the report on the operation of the Auschwitz Memorial in the last six months, presented to the Council, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Director of the Museum, talked about the record number of visitors in 2011 and the work of the 270 guides of the Museum, about investments and plans related to educational activities and exhibitions, about new publications, about extensive conservation work that is under way, about activities related to securing the areas of the former camp, about development of the Perpetual Fund of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, about the financial standing of the Museum, as well as about the approaching 67th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
Members of the Council became acquainted with the progress of work on a new Jewish exhibition, which is being prepared in the Auschwitz Museum by the Yad Vashem Institute from Jerusalem. Avner Shalev, the Institute’s Director, presented a concept for individual rooms of the exhibition which will be located in Block 27 in the area of the former Auschwitz I camp. Some rooms will be devoted to Jewish life before the war, Nazi ideology, as well as the extermination. One of the rooms will be dedicated to children murdered during the Holocaust. The agenda of the Council’s session also included information regarding the situation related to the area of the former extermination camp in Sobibór.
During the session, Noah Flug, a member of the IAC, who died on August 11, 2011, was honoured with a minute of silence.
The last session of the Council in this term was an opportunity for recapitulation. Ending the session, Professor Władysław Bartoszewski said: “I would like to thank all the members of the Council. We have all contributed, to a certain degree, to the transformation and the strengthening of the IAC’s position. Via our various interventions, we have also contributed to numerous activities for the benefit of the Auschwitz Memorial. I am also happy due to the fact that in recent years, the Council has started to look after other memorials, because all these places are interconnected. Ahead of us is the preparation of the new main exhibition in the Auschwitz Museum, the issue of adaptation of the so-called Old Theatre for the seat of the International Centre of Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, as well as new problems and challenges which will come in the future and will, undoubtedly, require the Council’s attention.”
For Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Ph.D., Director of the Museum, the sessions of the Council are a very good opportunity to consult outstanding specialists in various areas from all over the world with respect to complex issues related to managing the Memorial. “This place belongs to the history of the entire world. Therefore, a common ground for reflection in many cases turns out to be necessary,” said Director Cywiński.
Sarah Bloomfield, director of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, said that the six years of this term of the Council were very important. “Our responsibility is to assist and preserve the moral and historical integrity of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The issues that this responsibility raises are very significant and complex. Being a part of the Council was an privilege for me, because these are important issues which are significant not only for our generation, but also generations to come. I hope that I lived up to that responsibility.,” she said.
Avner Shalev, Director of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, considers the last term of the IAC a success. “We have travelled a long way, but I believe that we have managed to solve many problems that we encountered. Without doubt, this term was fruitful and – which is very significant – the sessions of the Council were held in a friendly atmosphere,” said Shalev.
The most important issues in recent years with which the IAC was dealing was the problem of preservation of the authenticity of remnants after the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Therefore, a lot of attention was given to conservation work, and the Council fully supported the decision of the IAC Chairman, Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, and the Museum’s Director, Piotr Cywiński, concerning establishment of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, whose purpose is to secure finances for the conduct of the long-term conservation programme of the Memorial. Another important issue was also the financial needs of all martyrological museums in Poland.
Much attention was devoted to a discussion regarding the planned new main exhibition in the Memorial, as well as to the operation of the International Centre of Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust and plans for establishing its seat in the building of the so-called Old Theatre. The Council also discussed issues related to protection of the area of the former camp from flood and other threats and protection of the integrality of the collections and the Museum’s archives.
The International Auschwitz Council was established in 2000. It is a consultative and advisory body of the Prime Minister with respect to protection and management not only of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, but also other Memorials located within the post-war borders of Poland. The term of the Council’s members, who include former Auschwitz prisoners, renowned personalities and experts on the history of WWII, concentration camps and the Holocaust, lasts 6 years.