Oswiecim - General Information

Trip Start Jun 20, 2004
Trip End Aug 19, 2004

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Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Sunday, May 30, 2004

If you'd like to know how to pronounce Oswiecim, you can go to this dictionary link and hear a recorded voice say the word: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=Oswiecim . Here is a pronunciation guide: "osh-'fyen-chEm. In simpler terms, it sounds sort of like this: osh-vee-AIN-chim.

The History of Oswiecim
Before the Holocaust, the town of Oswiecim, Poland had a strong Jewish community with twelve synagogues. With the advent of the Final Solution and the construction of the Auschwitz death camp within Oswiecim, the Jews of Oswiecim were gathered in the square in front of the Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue and herded to their deaths. The date of the founding of Oswiecim is not known. Extant sources indicate that the city developed as a settlement attached to the castle during the initial period of Polish history. You can find a timeline of the history of Oswiecim town through 1999 at http://www.auschwitz.org.pl/html/eng/historia_KL/oswiecim_ok.html .

Oswiecim Town Today
Oswiecim is a town with a population of more than 43,000. It spans 30.3 square kilometers and is located on both banks of Sola river in the middle of the Oswiecim Basin. This location is adjacent to three economically important districts - the Upper Silesian industrial center, the Cracow agglomeration and the Podbeskidzie region. Near Oswiecim there are there a few interesting tourist places: Cracow (the former capital of the country, royal castle, coronation cathedral of Polish kings), Wieliczka (a medieval salt mine), Wadowice (birthplace of the pope John Paul II), Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (Sanctuary of Virgin Lady) and Pszczyna (palace of duke Habsburg).
For more information on Oswiecim, go to http://www.um.oswiecim.pl/pl/index.php .

The Auschwitz Jewish Center
n 1939, Jews represented the vast majority of Oswiecim's population, a vibrant community with dozens of synagogues and yeshivas. The Jewish Center in Oswiecim is housed in the only synagogue in the town that was not completely destroyed in the Shoah and in the attached former family home (both acquired in association with the Bielsko Biala Jewish Community). The Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Beit Midrash was desecrated by the Nazis, who made it a munitions depot, and then by the Communists, under whom it was used as a carpet warehouse. The synagogue has been restored and the house has become a Jewish educational and cultural center.
Oswiecim is a city with a rich and long history, in which Jewish life and culture played a significant role for more than 500 years. The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the State Museum depict the manner in which millions of Jewish and non-Jewish victims were murdered by the Nazis. The Jewish Center depicts and memorializes the life and culture of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust by focusing on the largely unknown history of Jewish life in Oswiecim.
Here is a link to the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation: http://www.ajcf.org .

International Youth Meeting Center
This is where I will be living while I am in Oswiecim. I will be sharing a two-room apartment with the three other summer scholars of the Auschwitz Jewish Center (all women). The International Youth Meeting Center in Oswiecim was founded as an educational outpost in 1986 thanks to the committment of many who were part of the process of Polish-German reconciliation and the Christian-Jewish dialogue. The International Youth Meeting Center is an educational center created by the Action Reconciliation/Service for Peace and the City of Oswiecim.
IYMC began its work in 1986 with the firm conviction that knowledge and understanding of history make the creation of a better future possible. The idea for the creation of the International Youth Meeting Center(IYMC) in Oswiecim/Auschwitz began with the German organization, Actions Reconciliation/Service for Peace (ARSP) in 1970 after the signing of the "Warsaw Agreement" between West Germany and Poland. The organization's director, poet Volker von Törne, dreamed of the creation of a house under which roof, young people from different countries could find a place to confront the difficult heritage of Auschwitz, and, at the same time, become acquainted with different ways of life and styles of thinking. IYMC was to become a place of discussion and dialogue, where history would be subjected to critical analysis.
Here is the website for the International Youth Meeting Center: http://www.mdsm.pl/index.php?language=EN .

Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
The Memorial and Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau is visited by more than 300,000 tourists each tear. During World War II, the camp consisted of three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. It also had over 40 sub-camps. At first, Poles were imprisoned and died in the camp. Afterwards, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, and prisoners of other nationalities were also incarcerated there. Beginning in 1942, the camp became the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity, which was committed against the European Jews as part of Hitler's plan for the complete destruction of that people. The majority of the Jewish men, women and children deported to Auschwitz were sent to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers immediately after arrival. At the end of the war, in an effort to remove the traces of the crimes they had committed, the SS began dismantling and razing the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, as well as burning documents. Prisoners capable of marching were evacuated into the depths of the Reich. Those who remained behind in the camp were liberated by Red Army soldiers on January 27, 1945. A July 2, 1947 act of the Polish parliament established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the grounds of the two extant parts of the camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. For more information about the memorial and museum, go to http://www.auschwitz.org.pl .
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