Meeting XXII: 18 January 2012
On 18 January 2012, the last session of the 2006-2012 tenure of the International Auschwitz Council was held in the Prime Minister's Office. At the beginning of the meeting, the participants observed a minute silence for the departed Noah Flug, a former prisoner and long-standing member of the Council.
Followed by a speech from Prime Minister Donald Tusk. He thanked the members of the IAC for the six years of hard work, which - as he pointed out - has brought excellent results. He also stressed that out of the € 120 million being collected for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, declarations have already been obtained for nearly 100 million. At the same time, the head of the Polish government announced a contribution of € 10 million. He further added that whenever the occasion arises, he always expresses his debt of appreciation and gratitude to the members of the Council through Władysław Bartoszewski, whose presence and energy is crucial in this council. In the person of its President, members of the IAC are rest assured that the Polish government will always be devoted to matters of Auschwitz.
The Prime Minister also thanked the staff of the Museum, all of whom without exception - with extraordinary energy, dedication and sensitivity - made good use of the positive changes and growing resources. To conclude, Donald Tusk stressed that he wished Poland and the international community a new Council that presented an identical level of gentleness, wisdom and determination as the group about to end their term of office.
After the speech of Prime Minister Tusk, members of the Council listened to a report by Dr. Piotr Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Attendance last year increased again and amounted to 1 million 405 thousand. The youth constitutes 74 percent of visitors, and a minimum of 90 percent of all the visitors to Auschwitz I also visit Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
In the course of discussion on the project of former French prisoners in Birkenau, changes were implemented to guided tours around the camp: upon passing through the Gate of Death, the groups go to the loading ramp and then to the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria. The topic of the concentration camp is discussed on the way back to the bus, passing through the women's camp or on the way to the wooden barracks. This helps to avoid confusing issues of the Holocaust and the concentration camp.
Piotr Cywiński also discussed, among others, the investment plans of the Museum, the problems of some national exhibitions and activities of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. Reporting on budget issues, he thanked the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for increasing the Museum’s subsidy for the first time in many years. However, the level of employees wages remains a growing concern. To conclude, dr. Cywiński listed three strategic tasks: preparing the new main exhibition (cost estimated at PLN 60 to 70 million), conversion of the Old Theatre into the seat of the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust (PLN 25 million) and the protection of the Memorial Site against possible destructive effects of tectonic movements caused by the surrounding mines (in November 2011, rock bursts ranged from 3.4 to 3.8 on the Richter scale).
Subsequently, Krystyna Oleksy the deputy director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum presented the educational activities at the Memorial Site while Avner Shalev of the Yad Vashem Institute presented the assumptions of the new Jewish exhibition in Block 27. The Council Members highly appreciated the mentioned project.
In turn, representatives of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage reported on the problems of the Memorial Site in Sobibor. Negotiations have been concluded between the Ministry and the district starost of Włodawa and the Łęczyna-Włodawa Lake District Museum concerning the transfer of former camp land under the administration of the ministry. It will come under the direct supervision of the State Museum at Majdanek.
Members of the Council also discussed the proposals for new commemorations and graphic elements of the museum in the Birkenau space, among others, the project declared by the President of the French Union of Auschwitz Deportees (UDA) and the idea of creating additional sites where tribute may be paid to the victims. Director Cywiński once again stressed that the procedure of guided tours at the Birkenau has changed and that the museum is preparing to include accounts of survivors in the Birkenau space - in such a way as not to undermine the authenticity and tranquillity of the site. Members of the Council also agreed that the changes must not lead to a substantive or symbolic separation of Auschwitz I from Birkenau and the discussion on detailed solutions should be continued in the next term of office.
During the session, Krystyna Oleksy announced that last year marked 40 years of her professional career and 21 years as deputy director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, and as such she has decided to retire in January this year. Members of the IAC gave a long applause to vice-director Oleksy, and Władysław Bartoszewski stressed that her numerous achievements would require a separate laudation.
At the end of the session, the chairman thanked the members of the Council on behalf of himself and Prime Minister Tusk for the past term of office. He also thanked representatives of the ministries, especially the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the ambassador of Israel to Poland and representatives of the diplomatic corps, employees of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, as well as the municipal government of Oświęcim. He expressed joy that, the Council assumed advisory care of other Memorial Sites in the past years. He listed among others, the following as priorities for the future: the new main exhibition as well as the conversion of the Old Theatre to the seat of the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.