From the New York Times:
Kazimierz Smolen, a survivor of Auschwitz who was director of the memorial site there for 35 years, died on Friday, the 67th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation. He was 91.
Mr. Smolen’s death, in Oswiecim, the southern Polish town where Nazi Germany operated Auschwitz and Birkenau, was announced by Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum.
Soviet troops liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. In 2005, the United Nations designated Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Auschwitz-Birkenau became a museum two years afterWorld War II ended, and Mr. Smolen was the director of the museum from 1955 to 1990. He continued to live in Oswiecim after his retirement.
Mr. Sawicki said that the news of Mr. Smolen’s death was announced to Holocaust survivors who had gathered to observe Remembrance Day at the camp, still enclosed in barbed wire, and that they observed a minute of silence in his honor.
Mr. Smolen was born on April 19, 1920, in the southern Polish town of Chorzow Stary. Involved in the anti-Nazi resistance, he was arrested by the Germans in April 1941 and taken to Auschwitz in one of the early mass shipments of prisoners there. He left the camp on the last transport of prisoners evacuated by the Germans on Jan. 18, 1945, nine days before its liberation. He attributed his survival to good health and extreme luck.
He once explained his decision to return to the camp as a way of honoring those who were killed there. “Sometimes when I think about it,” he said, “I feel it may be some kind of sacrifice, some kind of obligation I have for having survived.”
“The exhibition at Auschwitz no longer fulfills its role, as it used to. More or less eight to 10 million people go to such exhibitions around the world today, they cry, they ask why people didn’t react more at the time, why there were so few righteous, then they go home, see genocide on television and don’t move a finger. They don’t ask why they are not righteous themselves.
To me the whole educational system regarding the Holocaust, which really got under way during the 1990s, served its purpose in terms of supplying facts and information. But there is another level of education, a level of awareness about the meaning of those facts. It’s not enough to cry. Empathy is noble, but it’s not enough.”
— PIOTR CYWINSKI, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, where officials are revising exhibitions to better educate visitors, numbers of which reached 1.3 million last year. “If we succeed we will show for the first time the whole array of human choices that people faced at Auschwitz.”
Quoted in “Auschwitz Shifts from Memorializing to Teaching,” by Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times (via tartantambourine)