‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 22, 2018 14:16

‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’

Story Highlights

  • Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects. “Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we should all take responsibility for its future. We have 2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means,” she tells Tirana Times in an interview

Related Articles

Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects.
“Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we should all take responsibility for its future. We have 2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means,” she tells Tirana Times in an interview

Your visit to Albania is considered a good omen as Remembrance is still a hot topic in Albania. What are the challenges facing your institution with remembrance and what is the Polish government’s attention to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation activity?

-We all need to be very careful when it comes to remembrance – we need to stick to the facts and resist the temptation to choose narratives coherent to current political agendas. This applies not only to countries and their governments but to everyone who is interested in the past. Auschwitz is a sacred place – it’s a symbol of the Holocaust and a place of martyrdom of many Poles, Roma and Sinti and many others. Our project, which involves preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects, has had a lot of support from Polish government since the beginning. We have 38 countries that have decided to donate funds to our Endowment. Poland is among our biggest donors with contribution of €10 million. The Polish Ministry of Culture is responsible for maintaining day-to-day expenses of the Museum.

Your government has drafted a law regarding the legacy of Auschwitz-Birkenau and its confession to foreigners. Can you explain that more clearly to the Albanian public?

-Personally I don’t think that there is much sense in regulating historical truth by the acts of law and from what I understand our legislators will be rethinking this idea. Their notion was not to undermine the suffering of any nation but to make it clear that Poland was not responsible for the Holocaust. Of course it was not. The Polish government in London opposed Nazi’s actions towards Jewish citizens of Poland and it was the Polish underground that informed the allies about the situation in ghettos and that there were death camps. The government is not responsible for the actions of individuals, but we as a society need to remember that most of us remained indifferent to the tragedy that came upon our Jewish compatriots. Some 25 percent of all the people who were granted the title of ‘Righteous among Nations’ come from Poland – that is a lot but we need to appreciate their heroism and remember that their attitude was exceptional.

What is your Albania visit focusing on? Is there anything special?

-We would like Albania to be the 39th country to join our project. Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we all should take responsibility for its future. We have
2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means.

Is the younger generation leaving behind the dark legacy of Nazism? Do you think that all this process is organized by structures that are interested in keeping away and forgetting Auschwitz ‘s legacy?

-We live in the times of uncertainty – the world is changing really fast and the political situation in many countries is unstable. This can lead to the rebirth of dangerous tendencies among young people. It is our job to make sure that they know that being afraid of “the other” will not fix the problems of contemporary world – it will for sure create new ones. There will always be people who will take pride in hatred and they will appear strong to young people. The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength.

Even Holocaust revisionism has remained on the periphery of public awareness since the 19th century (in Germany, revisionists refer to the Holocaust as Auschwitz-Lüge or the Auschwitz lie) and over the last decade revisionists have popularized their cause in a series of spectacular court cases in Germany, France, Canada and the United States. Why is this happening right now in your opinion?

-Holocaust denial is a serious issue but I don’t think that we should treat denialists seriously. These people look for controversy and fame. They should not be a part of the main discourse. But they can be influential. This is why we treat all the objects, we preserve them as memorabilia of course, but we also remember that that is proof of genocide. The conservation team’s main goal is to protect the authentic tissue of Auschwitz – so that no one will ever be able to say that we cannot prove that Holocaust happened. Yes we can. Of course that happened.

There is probably no more appropriate single location than Auschwitz-Birkenau to grasp the scope of the Nazi horror. But the unprecedented and unparalleled nature of that horror makes it somewhat inappropriate as a useful lesson for preventing genocide today. When you’re waiting for something that looks like Birkenau, it’s almost too easy to say, “never again.” From what your Foundation is doing, have you carried out any scientific research about the future prospects of Auschwitz?

-I’m not sure if I understand the question correctly – our Foundation has just one goal – to preserve physical remains of Auschwitz, but the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has an excellent scientific department. People who work in this department are still learning new facts about how the camp functioned, they still find new stories. When it comes to Auschwitz being a place of education – yes it can be perceived as a controversy to teach on the cemetery. But we don’t have a choice because it is also a necessity. If we have a chance to show younger generations that hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia lead to gas chambers it is our duty to do it, otherwise the death of millions would go to waste.

Have you heard of about Albania’s case of remembrance?

-I know that Albania is very respectful of its past – especially the times of Hoxha’s regime. There are important places like the Spaç prison that also need to be preserved because the story they tell needs to be heard and not only in Albania but throughout the world. I wish more people know how many Albanians were involved in saving Jews during II World War.

Is there any number or evidence of Albanians in Birkenau?

-We know of a few victims from Albania, but we have little to no information about them. Only 10 percent of the German archives survived.

Is it difficult for your Foundation to find a common language with donors when it comes to Birkenau?

-No, our donors understand our mission and want to be a part of it. The toughest work that our Foundation is doing is carried out in Birkenau. This part of the camp, unlike Auschwitz which was established in the preexisting building, was built by the prisoners with second-hand materials that were not supposed to last 75 years. Our donors know that if we want the future generations to be able to come and pay homage to the victims, we need to act together and we need to act fast.

In your opinion, why don’t Auschwitz’s bitter messages forbid this repression policy that seems to take endless lives in Syria and around the world?

-It is terrifying that after what happened during World War II, we still allow innocent people to suffer. We all know that’s wrong, but we will not take time to act against it. I urge all readers to do their part, even the smallest contribution to humanitarian organizations or your presence at protests will make the world a little better. The strong voice of Bulgaria’s public opinion saved the lives of 50,000 people! We need to be vocal in our disagreement also because today there’s Syria and Myanmar, but anybody can be next in line. If we don’t show compassion to those who suffer today, we have no right to expect solidarity when hatred knocks on our doors.

Do you think that Albania can learn from your Foundation’s experience of remembrance?

-I think we can learn from each other. Although much different both the history of Albania and Poland is very complex. I think there is a great value in sharing our history with all its dark and shameful spots so that we have a better understanding of the world we live in.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 22, 2018 14:16