On 23 November 2019, the Natolin Historical Society had the honour to organize a one-day extracurricular visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the largest former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, where over 1.1 million men, women, and children from various countries of Europe have lost their lives. Since 1947, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial has devoted its existence to preserving the post-camp relics, conservation, hosting research, and publishing work in order to retain the memory of the camp and ensure that it will last after the last eyewitnesses and survivors pass away.
A group of 77 Natolin students and staff members had a chance to explore the history of KL Auschwitz I and KL Auschwitz II-Birkenau, along with the evolution of the Nazi system of political and physical repression from 1940 to 1945. Their visit included a rare opportunity to see the so-called reserve blocks, which were kept unchanged since the liberation of the camp for research purposes, and the access to which is limited to selected study groups only. The group could also listen to a lecture by Ms Teresa WONTOR-CICHY from the Research Centre of the Museum on the private life of members of the SS staff in the camp.
Organized at the end of the first semester, the visit sought to epitomize the themes of national identity and totalitarianism promoted among the students of Natolin by the Historical Society in honour of Hannah Arendt’s legacy. It was all the more symbolic and important, as very soon the world will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp with a major international event organized at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial on 27 January next year.
Despite all the years that passed, one must never stop learning from that experience. It seems impossible to truly understand postwar Europe and the contemporary world without an in-depth and honest confrontation between our idea of mankind, memories of the war, and the Holocaust. Auschwitz is where Europe ended. It is also where it began again.