To this day, we associate the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with the tragic fate of people and genocide. The prisoners who had managed to avoid death there had the same, and sometimes even more extreme feelings towards the camp. This translated into a reluctance to return to this place amongst many of them. Yet one of the survivors returned and established a museum and memorial in Auschwitz so that this story would never be repeated.
Kazimierz Smoleń is what today’s article will be about. He was born on April 19, 1920, in Old Chorzów, which is currently included in the administrative boundaries of the city of Chorzów. His father, Józef Smoleń, participated in all three Silesian uprisings that took place after World War I, and later became the chairman of the Association of Silesian Insurgents. Kazimierz obtained his high school diploma a year before the war. On September 1, 1939, the young man took an active part in the September campaign, which, unfortunately, ended in failure. This did not prevent him from commencing underground activities in December of the same year as a part of the Polish Partisan Organization. This activity sentenced him to five years in Auschwitz.
He was arrested in Chorzów. From there he was taken to the prison in Sosnowiec, and then transported to Auschwitz. It was in early July 1940 that Smoleń was given the camp number 1327. It can be said that the day of his arrival at the camp was quite unlucky, as it coincided with the escape of the first Polish prisoner, and therefore with a criminal appeal.
As one of the first prisoners, he had a pretty good job. He worked in a writers’ chamber, first as a cleaner and later as a writer. This may have led him to go to jail, but he was not caught whilst doing it. He spent 5 years in the camp, and together with the other prisoners he set off on the Death March on January 18, 1945. He stayed in KL Mauthausen and its sub-camps. He was released in May 1945.
After the war, he studied at the Catholic University of Lublin, at the Faculty of Law. He worked at the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes, he testified in the crew trials in Nuremberg and Frankfurt. In 1955 he was appointed director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim. He participated in the creation of the main exhibition, which has been visited by tourists for years. He was also a long-time secretary-general and vice-chairman of the International Auschwitz Committee. He resigned from the post of director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in 1990, after thirty-five years of work for him. Kazimierz died ten years ago. The day of his death fell on a date quite characteristic in his context, namely Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of the KL Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, i.e. on January 27, 2012.
Kazimierz Smoleń during his life received several honours, including the Commander’s Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta, or for contributions to the National Defense. He was also happy to conduct lectures and meetings as a survivor of the horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau.