Outreach continues with Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Since 2014, Mrs. Teresa Wontor-Cichy has been a familiar figure at The Polish Mission.  She’s a prominent historian at Research Centre of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (A-BSM) in Oświęcim, Poland, and she’s a distinguished presenter of the history of Auschwitz amidst the Forbidden Art traveling exhibition, presented in North America by The Polish Mission in exclusive cooperation with A-BSM.  Based in Orchard Lake, the history of Auschwitz and the Holocaust is a challenging topic for the Polish Mission team, but it’s one that Polish Mission Director Marcin Chumiecki, and colleagues JJ Przewozniak and Marzanna Owinski take seriously.  “Poland has a deep and warm relationship with Jewish people that goes back a thousand years and more,” Chumiecki said.  He continued: “As an educational organization, we’re obligated to tell the whole story of Poland, not just the ones that are simple.”  He and Przewozniak have faced criticism for launching the well-known educational program about Auschwitz.  When asked about it, he replied: “those who wish to ignore the Holocaust are the very reason we do programs like this—our founder Fr. Józef Dąbrowski said it best in the very year he founded our organization [1885]: ‘liberty cannot be enjoyed fully by uneducated people…Intelligence only makes men free.’ We carry that same message today against ignorance, bigotry and hatred.”

Wontor-Cichy opens Forbidden Art at the Wixom Public Library with a lecture

Wontor-Cichy received her master’s degree from the Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), Faculty of Humanities, Institute of History, and she’s an author of several historical publications focusing on a variety of prisoner groups of Auschwitz.  Several of her works include Imprisoned for Their Faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses in KL Auschwitz, (published in Polish, English and German), Duchowieństwo i życie religijne w Auschwitz (Clergy and Religious Practices in Auschwitz) [w:] Katecheta, (published in Polish), Wilhelm Brasse. Fotograf 3444. Auschwitz 1940-1945, (co-author, published in Polish and German).  She also participates in E-learning by developing and presenting lessons such as The Roma in Auschwitz and The Clergy and Religious Life in Auschwitz.

Forbidden Art opening event at the Wixom Public Library
Click here to see all the photos from the event!

When Forbidden Art was presented at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in 2014 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Wontor-Cichy represented A-BSM and ceremonially opened the exhibition alongside Polish Mission staff and the Eisenhower Site Curator Karl Weissenbach.  Her presentation there was an in-depth look at aspects of life in the former camp that captured the attention of all the attendees, giving them a fuller context in which to view Forbidden Art.  Wontor-Cichy’s eloquence and in-depth expertise is an essential part of The Polish Mission’s most well-known educational program, and she’s been in high demand ever since the Kansas venue.

District Representative Nick Kennedy, Wontor-Cichy, and Przewozniak smile for the camera after opening Forbidden Art in Wixom

In September of 2016, she reunited with the Polish Mission team at University of Michigan-Dearborn, and most recently, she opened Forbidden Art at the Wixom Public Library.  The City of Wixom is the sixteenth venue in the United States for the three-ton traveling exhibition, which has travelled over 8,000 miles since its premier in 2012 at the Galeria on The Polish Mission’s historic home campus of the Orchard Lake Schools.  Wixom city officials pride their community on being a “first city.” This holds true as they’ve become the first municipality in the United States to host the exhibition that’s been on display the United Nations, and most recently, the United States Military Academy at West Point.  After Wontor-Cichy’s lecture at the Wixom Public Library on March 19, world class violinist Sonia Lee serenaded the over 200 guests as some enjoyed elegant hors d’oeuvres, and others viewed the exhibition in silence in the darkened library circulation area.

Wontor-Cichy poses for a photo with International Academy teacher Marc DeZwaan, Chumiecki, and students after a presentation
Click here to see all the photos from the IA lectures!

Wontor-Cichy completed several seminars, workshops, and programs through her career at A-BSM.  Some examples include the Seminar in Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem (2005, 2008), Memorial Sites as a key for future education, organized by the Secretariat of the International Commission for the evaluation of the crimes of the Nazi and the Soviet occupation regimes in Lithuania (2012), ABCs of Christian, Polish, and Jewish relations, at Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kraków (2014), and Transgressing borders, at the 2nd European meeting on Nazi Medicine in Prague (2016).  She also serves as a historical consultant for many documentary films about Auschwitz history, and serves as Curator of Guides’ Issues at A-BSM.

Wontor-Cichy during all-day lectures at St. Mary’s Prep
Click here to see all the photos from the lectures at OLSM!

With the Wixom venue being so close to the Orchard Lake community, the Polish Mission team leapt into action to share the educational message of the world’s most familiar symbol of the Holocaust with the local community.  Immediately following the presentations in Wixom, not a moment was to be lost as Wontor-Cichy and the Polish Mission crew travelled to International Academy in Bloomfield Township, where Teacher Marc DeZwaan had prepared two history classes for the special guest speaker.  Chumiecki and Przewozniak transported two of The Polish Mission’s artifacts to DeZwaan’s classroom to further enrich the students’ experience: an original prisoner uniform jacket attributed to Auschwitz, and a large sketch created by Catholic survivor of Auschwitz Jan Komski.  Komski’s series of works depicting the camp are a treasury of priceless information told through the fine details of his works.  The Polish Mission owns twelve works by Jan Komski, the largest collection anywhere outside of A-BSM.

Freshman through Senior OLSM Polish, Spanish, French, and theology classes pause for a photos with Wontor-Cichy following her lecture

The next day, Wontor-Cichy and Przewozniak met with the clergy of one of The Polish Mission’s partner institutions, Temple Israel.  The reform synagogue in West Bloomfield is one of the largest in the United States with a community of over 15,000 families.  After the meeting with the clergy, a presentation was offered to a Torah study group, in which Wontor-Cichy focused on the experience of women at Auschwitz.  Questions and answers from the vibrant community there ensued, and then it was back to Orchard Lake to prepare for an all-day lecture series with St. Mary’s Prep.  8:30 Wednesday morning began a long day of presentations to the young men of OLSM, in which she lectured for six hours before her return flight to Poland that evening.  OLSM Headmaster Cormac Lynn with Chumiecki and Przewozniak all recognized the importance of having such a special opportunity for the OLSM students to get a deeper perspective on a topic so fully engaged by The Polish Mission.

Wontor-Cichy and OLSM Headmaster Cormac Lynn

On Saturday March 25, the newly-appointed Consul General of Poland in Chicago Mr. Piotr Janicki paid a visit to Orchard Lake Schools Chancellor-Rector Msgr. Thomas C. Machalski Jr., during which they along with Chumiecki, Przewozniak, and Owinski of The Polish Mission gave an overview of Polish Mission programming, including major future developments in Polish Language education, as well as new exhibitions coming from Polish museums, and the continuation of the partnership with A-BSM.  The meeting was adjourned with enough time for the Polish delegation to visit Forbidden Art.  There, Consul General Janicki met with Mayor of Wixom Kevin W. Hinkley alongside representatives from Wixom’s Police and Fire Departments.  Their meeting ended with smiles and warm wishes for the future of Polish programming in Wixom with The Polish Mission.

Police Sergeant Mark Bradley, Administrative Assistant Stacey Banks, Polish General Consul Piotr Janicki, Mayor Kevin W. Hinkley, Marcin Chumiecki, Senior Firefighter Mike Smith, Police Officer Jeff Niehaus, EMS Coordinator Dave Stewart, and JJ Przewozniak
Click here to see all the photos from Consul General Janicki’s visit!

Please join The Polish Mission in thanking the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for many years of meaningful partnership, and Mrs. Wontor-Chichy for her dedication to our community here.  Thanks to that good partnership with the administration of the Museum, and her expertise, countless people have been moved and inspired to experience a fuller understanding of Holocaust and genocide issues.