The European Workshop ‘Dealing with the Past of Auschwitz Burdened by Violence‘

August 11–16, 2019 two Lithuanian educators had an opportunity to attend an international workshop at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, Poland. The seminar has been organized by Maximilian Kolbe Foundation for over a decade now. Close to the town of Oswiecim, there is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the largest former concentration and extermination camp, founded by Nazi Germany. At the workshop, there was an opportunity to meet the participants from more than ten European countries and to discuss topics that connect the past, the present and the future – how to preserve memory and pass on to the future generations, how to achieve reconciliation and compassion.

On the first day of the workshop, the participants got to know each other, and also met Andrzey Kacorzyk, a deputy director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum who delivered a presentation “Dealing with Violent Burdened Past as a Challenge.” On the second day the participants had a face-to-face meeting with the tragic history. That day the Auschwitz- Birkenau concentration camps were attended. After returning from the camps, all the participants, divided into two groups, expressed their thoughts, feelings and took part in the discussion.

On the third day, the participants met the survivors who experienced the horrors of the concentration camps, Prof. Dr. Hanna Ulatowska and Zdzislawa Wlodarczyk. The women shared their shocking memories, how they survived, how the experience touched their lives, what they do and how they live today. The other encounter was with a Polish theatre set designer and artist, Marian Kolodzej, who drew pictures of his memories from Auschwitz. This impressive exhibition is on display at the Franciscan monastery near Auschwitz. The works of Marian Kolodziej, who was incarcerated for 5 years, reflect the horror, pain, hunger and despair of that historic period. Until his death in 2009, Kołodziej drew and painted more than 260 works depicting the horrific conditions in the camps

On the fourth and fifth days the participants of the workshop from Poland, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Ukraine gave presentations on the historical memory of World War II in their countries. There were also discussions held on various topics raised by the participants of the seminar: “Survivors – what is the value of their testimonies, how do we sustain them?”, “The past, present, future – forget or remember?”, “The power of memory and its dangers”, “Is it possible to look at the horror of concentration camps through the prism of positivity?”. On Friday night there was a friendly, maybe even creative dinner, with songs from different countries. The participants of the workshop could also hear the sounds of a Lithuanian folk song.

As one of the participants of the seminar said, “Bridges are being built to connect, to walk …” We believe that attending such a seminar, meeting European participants from different organizations and different backgrounds but equally interested in history and sharing the same values, first, built a bridge for all of us, broadened our horizons, and provided knowledge that we can now pass on to our students.

Gintarė Boreišienė, an art teacher and an organiser of non-formal education at Šėta Gymnasium, Kėdainiai district.

Vaida Apšegienė, a deputy director and a teacher of English at Radviliškis Vaižgantas  Progymnasium.