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The article appeared in “Die Welt”, on 4 October 2003.

Talk – because the words are missing

By Iris Hanika

This week the coordinating office of the International Auschwitz Committee (IAC), the international amalgamation of camp survivors, was opened in Berlin. The Office has its place at the German Resistance Memorial Site and is managed by Christoph Heubner who is not a camp survivor himself. He was born after the Second World War, but has devoted all his life to this cause, so that he hardly finds time to write poems, which originally was his first job choice.

Participants in the opening were several ambassadors as well as members of parliament, but above all many camp survivors who consider it extremely important to talk about the atrocities which they experienced, to make sure that there will be no repetition.

The opening started with a music presentation by the highly gifted young violinist Adam Musialski from Katowice, a place 30 kilometres north of Oswiecim (which is the Polish name for Auschwitz).

The first speaker was Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily whose ministry has provided the necessary financial grants which made it possible for the IAC to open this coordinating office.

The Minister of the Interior said that even today it is by no means a natural thing that the IAC opens its office in Berlin. Therefore, he understands this as an important sign of the survivors’ trust in Germany’s pluralistic society of today:
“ We warmly welcome you to our democratic Berlin”, he said. He added that he is glad that the IAC office is situated in the premises of the Memorial of German Resistance, as this place is a reminder of the fact that there were also German people – although far too few – who offered resistance.

“ Guilt cannot be passed on to the following generation, but the responsibility always remains”, Otto Schily said. He pronounced himself in favour of the maintenance of the Auschwitz Memorial: “There the significance of the shoa as a breach of civilization becomes evident”.

“It is our task to give the victims their names and their faces back and to remember them with honour”, he finished his speech.

What it means to give the victims their names back, was obvious when the IAC President Noach Flug individually welcomed each of the survivors from Poland, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium and the USA who had come to Berlin:

  • Kazimierz Albin who shortly after the concentration camp was set up, .in the early summer of 1940, was deported with the first transport from Tarnów to Auschwitz. In Auschwitz he was given the detainee number 118 (He is one of the few detainees who successfully escaped from the camp).

  • August Kowalczyk, actor who founded a hospice as a “living monument” in remembrance of all those Poles who had helped detainees fleeing from the camp. (He escaped himself, too.)

  • Prof. Felix Kolmar from Prague

  • Mr. and Mrs. König from Berlin (Mr. König is originally from Frankfurt/M.) He attributes his survival to the fact that he was a metalworker. That’s why he was sent to the branch camp in Monowitz where they needed qualified slaves to build the Buna works for IG Farben.

  • Esther Bejarano from Hamburg, born in Saarlouis as a cantor’s daughter. She has always been a rather little person, so all her friends called her “tiny tot”. As a child she had learned to play the piano, but in Auschwitz she played the accordion, as a member of the “girls’ orchestra”.

Finally, Mr. Flug introduced himself, too: “I was detained in Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen and Mauthausen”, he said. He did not continue listing the different camps but just said: “…and so on.” When he ended you could hear something like a sound of laughter (at least his face showed that he prefers to laugh whenever he has got the choice.)
Then the audience again listened to the sounds of wonderful music which could make you feel like crying. (No more “…and so on.”) Now Auschwitz which is so difficult to talk about, because what happened there, is beyond all common forms of expression, Auschwitz was physically present now, because these people who bear Auschwitz in themselves as a reminder of a reality of their lives, were present. So the significance of the hour showed up, without any further words.
In other situations, you can only find out what matters by trying to talk about it and then you will realize that the words are missing ….
That’s why it is so important to continue to talk about it – however difficult it may be.

Iris Hanika, born in 1962, lives as a free-lance author in Berlin.
Her article appeared in “Die Welt”,
on 4 October 2003.