On 1st May 2022, the Remembrance Museum opened its permanent exhibition to all visitors. A few days earlier – on 25th April, the Museum had been officially opened.
The April ceremonies were very well attended by state representatives, MEPs, deputies, as well as local government officials of all levels. In his speech, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Culture and National Heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński stated:
“This is another remembrance institution that we are opening up to society that denies terra incognita and recovers memory. For all the years, many of these institutions that were and are needed by Poland, precisely because they build our identity and the strength of our community, were not created and were not built. Now, we are very pleased. For me personally, I am satisfied that these places are being created at the moment. This is another institution that is reclaiming memory.
On 1st May, along with making the exhibition available to all visitors, the museum organized a meeting with Tadeusz Firczyk – history enthusiast and well-known Oświęcim photography collector to promote the publication by the Remembrance Museum of an album entitled “A Walk Around Oświęcim. Photographs from the collection of Tadeusz Firczyk”. Those present at the meeting received the book as a gift.
In order to present the newly opened exhibition and the modernized building, the museum organized more than a dozen meetings combined with tours, to which representatives of various social groups, organizations, NGOs, schools, etc. were invited.
“The completion of the investment to modernize the museum’s future HQ and the opening of the permanent exhibition was an extremely important point in the life of our institution. It made it possible, above all, through an extremely modern, multimedia exhibition, to recall and honour the memory of those residents of the Oświęcim area who, risking their own lives and those of their loved ones, brought aid to the prisoners of Auschwitz,” said Dorota Mleczko, Remembrance Museum director.
First Night of the Museums
On 14th May 2022, the museum organized the first Night of the Museums in its history. It was attended by more than a thousand people. The biggest attraction – multimedia presentations on the wall of the museum building.
The film “Courier Girl” is very popular
The ability to use the new premises for daily work has allowed the museum team to intensify many of its existing activities. The result? Over the past 12 months, 11,000 people crossed the threshold of the museum. Hundreds of them, in addition to visiting the permanent exhibition, had the opportunity to watch a film directed by Marek Luzar entitled “Kurierka” (known in English as Courier Girl) dedicated to Władysława Krystyna Rzepecka (née Harat), a second lieutenant in the Home Army, pseudonym “Wanda.” In 1943, as a 17-year-old girl, she delivered documents stolen by Auschwitz prisoners to Warsaw. The premiere screening of the film which was co-financed by the Remembrance Museum took place on 7th June 2022. It was attended by the closest members of Mrs Rzepecka’s family. In addition to screenings in Oświęcim, the film was shown at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the Schindler’s Factory branch of the Krakow Museum and also in such places as Libiąż and Bielsko-Biała. All screenings were and are free of charge.
Conferences and meetings
Activities that invariably enjoy great popularity among residents are conferences and meetings, including encounters with witnesses of history. Thanks to a modern, multimedia conference room, the museum can host these events at its headquarters at 2A Kolbego Street in Oświęcim.
Three conferences were held over the past year. The first, related to the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, was devoted to the post-war fate of children from Auschwitz.
The second, organized in March 2023 jointly with the Małopolska (Lesser Poland) Teacher Training Centre in Oświęcim and the St. Maximilian Center in Harmęże, was entitled: “The role of museum education in preserving the heritage of memory.” At the conference, the Memorial Heritage Academy was inaugurated. The academy included such activities as a curatorial tour of the permanent exhibition, a visit to the exhibition “Memory Clichés. Labyrinths” by Marian Kołodziej at the St. Maximilian Center in Harmęże, a visit to the temporary exhibition “Faces of Memory” at the Auschwitz Memorial Museum building, lectures, meetings and discussions on the possibilities of using museum spaces in the process of school education, as well as workshops and museum lessons.
The hero of the third conference (April 2023) was the artist and photographer Awit Szubert, who was born in Oświęcim but is better known in Krakow, Szczawnica and Wieliczka than in his hometown.
An important part of the museum’s activities is the organization of encounters with witnesses of history. Thanks to this, especially young people have the opportunity to meet directly and listen to those who experienced the atrocities of war.
Of record interest was an encounter with history through the eyes and words of Józefa Handzlik, who turned one hundred years old in February 2023. Thanks to a live webcast, her story was followed by relatives in the United States.
A full house also came to listen to history witness Maria Jurczyk.
Meetings with art and music
It is worth noting that the museum also organises meetings in other forms. Such, for example, was the event associated with the 79th anniversary of the birth of the famous sculptor Igor Mitoraj, who grew up in Grojec near Oświęcim. On 26th March 2023, the museum presented a painting by the artist in the museum’s collection to the public for the first time while the life of the artist was introduced by Prof. Joanna Kubicz of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow.
The museum, keeping in mind the diverse interests of the recipients of the historical message, also organises events in the series “Musically Historically”. The first concert in the series took place at the beginning of last year’s summer holidays when Polish Tenors performed. A few months later, the piano and vocal duo Myrczek & Tomaszewski played and sang. These events have proved very popular with visitors.
A special event in the “Musically Historically” series was a performance by students and teachers from the K. Szymanowski State Music School in Oświęcim. The multimedia verbal and musical programme presented in the museum space was titled “My Independence“.
Four books published
Publishing is an important part of the work carried out by the museum. Since the opening of the Remembrance Museum exhibition, three books published by the museum have appeared on the market, with the museum being the lead publisher on the fourth. The album “A walk around Oświęcim. Photographs from the collection of Tadeusz Firczyk” in Polish and English with historical photos of the city is particularly suited for people who want to learn about Oświęcim and its history. The album was also a gift to participants in the opening of the permanent exhibition to visitors on 1st May 2022. An important post-conference publication is the book “Aid In Female Disguise.” A conference entitled “The Female Face of Aid” (Aid had a woman’s face) organized jointly with the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust in Oswiecim was held in March 2022. The Museum is planning to publish the book in English and German. Two other items – “Monuments, Memorials, Commemorative Plaques in the Municipality of Brzeszcze,” edited by Dr. Jacek Lachendro (the museum as the main publisher) and “The Great Journey of Ordinary People,” by Andrzej Kacorzyk, attracted scores of people to author meetings in Osiek and Brzeszcze. More than 120 attending the event in Brzeszcze received a book dedicated to the history of their municipality free of charge.
Educational activities and projects
With the opportunity to use new rooms equipped with modern equipment, the Education Department has further intensified its activities. During the past 12 months, museum educators have conducted more than 40 workshops, which were attended by almost 900 people of all ages – from toddlers to seniors. Currently, the museum offers almost 20 topics for workshops and museum lessons. Particularly noteworthy is the offer for people with special needs, who are increasingly being hosted within the museum’s walls.
Associated with the series of fantastic events popularizing local history was the implementation, over a period of 10 months, of a project entitled “Hearing forgotten voices” which concluded in June 2022. The effect of the work of teams of history lovers from Zator, Kęty, Chełmek, Gorzów, Malec, Oświęcim and Brzeszcze, as well as the project coordinators – museum educators Anita Bury and Joanna Cebulska, were magnificent exhibitions organised at the place of their creation and later, successively presented as temporary exhibitions within the walls of the Remembrance Museum itself.
Strong media interest
Via traditional and electronic media, we kept supporters up to date on the progress of work on the modernization of the museum building and the preparation of the permanent exhibition. After the opening of the exhibition, thanks to the various initiatives and activities of the museum’s staff, as well as the rich cultural and educational offer, this interest increased even more. Suffice it to say that over the past 12 months, TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and websites have featured journalists talking and writing about the museum’s activities in more than 150 journalistic materials.
Two temporary exhibitions can be visited at the museum building. The first entitled “Remembrance Museum of Land of Oświęcim Residents – the story of its creation” contains descriptions and photographs documenting the development of the institution, the modernization of the building and the creation of the permanent exhibition. The second entitled “Faces of Courage. Residents of the Land of Oświęcim in the Service of Humanity” contains 21 biographical entries with photographs of people who were particularly active in helping Auschwitz prisoners. It will soon be expanded to include more biographies.
Over the past 12 months, Museum staff have continued to intensively collect collections, including the all-important records of accounts by witnesses to history, original documents and photographs related to the past and heritage of the Oświęcim area, as well as the heroic attitudes and activities of residents who rendered aid to Auschwitz prisoners.
Currently, the museums’ archival holdings contain a total of more than 150 hours of testimony recorded in audio and video format.
Thanks to the generosity of local residents, the museum collection has grown considerably with items from the German occupation. One of the most valuable donations was an Auschwitz prisoner’s uniform shirt which was donated in March 2023. Andrzej Banaś – son of Alojzy Banaś, who in 1940-1942 was commander of the Oświęcim district of the underground Union of Armed Struggle/ Home Army, which was part of the Bielsko Inspectorate. On 25th January 1943, Alojzy Banaś and other underground movement members were executed by the Germans at Auschwitz
The events mentioned above, all of which have taken place within the last 12 months, are, of course, not the only activities we have undertaken – they are, however, some of the important activities Remembrance Museum staff have organised and held.
“We come to the end of a year of intensive work abounding in a wide variety of activities and events. Our plans for the coming months are primarily to further promote our museum and permanent exhibition. On 7th May we invite[d] you to a concert to celebrate the first anniversary of our activities in our new headquarters and on 20th May, as part of the Night of Museums, we are planning a multimedia historical sound and light show. In autumn, we look forward to inviting you to a popular and scientific conference.
Coming up in the coming months is a change in the body that runs our institution. The change of organiser is aimed at broadening the scope of the museum’s activities, along with enriching the possibilities of its operation in terms of subject matter, organisation and finance. We want our potential to serve both regional and national needs,” highlighted Dorota Mleczko, Remembrance Museum director.