Our visit to Kraków began with a moving account by Bronislawa Horowitz, who is known as Niusia, about her experiences in Auschwitz. Born into a Jewish family in 1932, she was deported in 1941, first to the Kraków Ghetto and then to Płaszów labour camp. In 1944, shortly before the end of the war, she was deported to Auschwitz.
On two occasions, she was supposed to be killed in the gas chambers, but both times she managed to escape. She was finally rescued by the enamel-factory owner Oskar Schindler, who put Niusia Horowitz and her mother on his famous list of essential workers – Schindler’s list. This enabled mother and daughter to leave the concentration camp.
“The most terrible place in the world”
The following day, we visited the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Auschwitz in the summer. “This is the most terrible place in the world,” he said. Words can hardly describe the horror, which can still be felt to this day in the memorial, 74 years after liberation.
In the former barracks, we saw never-ending mountains of the victims’ belongings – shoes, suitcases, clothing, and even the hair of those murdered. We walked past the ruins of the gas chambers, crematoriums and barracks. We stood at the door of Birkenau extermination camp and then at the ramp between the railway platforms, where the SS decided people’s fate with a wave of their hand – forced labour or the gas chambers.
Even days later, we were still talking about what we had seen. How can we, as young diplomats, address this part of Germany’s past appropriately? How can we respond to this historic responsibility? How can we help to prevent suffering and war in the future?
Friendship under the most adverse conditions
After visiting the memorial, we spoke with Karol Tendera, who also survived Auschwitz. Like Niusia Horowitz, he recounted experiences of suffering and horror. Born in Kraków in 1921, he was first deported as a forced labourer to Hanover and then to Auschwitz in 1943. He was forced to endure experiments by the camp doctor Josef Mengele and left the camp in 1944 on one of the death marches. It was only by chance that he did not eat the food that the SS had poisoned shortly before the end of the war.
Karol Tendera also told an unusual story of friendship under the most adverse conditions. He became friends with a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz. They looked out for each other and took care of each other. With his friend’s help, he escaped death.
Close German-Polish relations
Friendly relations with our Polish neighbours are thus all the more important to us today. Our visit to Auschwitz was part of a visit of several days to Poland. We met young diplomats in Warsaw, with whom we discussed major political issues, as well as our day-to-day work and the differences and similarities between our training.
Remembrance of Auschwitz reminds us how important it is to foster this friendship and to build up strong ties for the future between Germany and Poland, and above all in Europe, so that the crimes of Auschwitz are never committed again.
By Mareike Ahrens and Juliane Ziegler