The concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is a place of horror and a lasting reminder of the victims of German crimes and of immeasurable suffering.
At the invitation of our Polish partner church, the Evangelical Augsburg Church in Poland (EAKP), I was able to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial together with a delegation from the German National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation (DNK/LWB). The visit took place in the run-up to the 13th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in September 2023, which will be held in Krakow at the invitation of our partner church.
Auschwitz was the site of systematic and factory-scale murder of Jews during the Shoah during World War II. Other groups persecuted by the Nazi regime were also imprisoned and murdered there. The death toll was between 1.1 and 1.5 million people. About 90% were Jews. The exact number of victims could never be determined. The countries of origin were mainly Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In a few days – on January 27 – we commemorate the liberation of the camp complex in 1945 by the Red Army advancing from the east. In the post-war period, the name „Auschwitz“ has become a symbol of the Shoah. The anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp has been the publicly observed day of remembrance of the victims of National Socialism in Germany since 1996 and internationally since 2005.
In memory of the victims, a wreath was laid at the former execution wall of the Auschwitz main camp by the Deputy Chairperson of the DNK/LWB, Bishop Kristina Kühnbaum-Schmidt (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany) and the Presiding Bishop of the EAKP, Bishop Jerzy Samiec. The joint laying of the wreath was an important sign of German-Polish reconciliation and the joint confrontation with the consequences of the Nazi dictatorship and the German crimes of the Second World War. The visit ended with a moment of silence, reflection and pausing at the memorial site of the Birkenau extermination camp.
In a DNK/LWF press release, Bishop Kristina Kühnbaum-Schmidt summarized the significance of the visit:
„The visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site deeply moved and shook me. There it became clear how much the history of Europe in the 20th century is a history of unimaginably great German crimes and guilt. We must never forget all these crimes and we must never remain silent about them. We must remember and commemorate the victims. And we must come to terms with how these crimes could have come about – also for the sake of our present and future. Because that belongs together: remembering, commemorating and resolutely taking responsibility – responsibility for ensuring that all people have inalienable dignity and the right to life and physical integrity.“