I am sitting down to write this late on the night of November 9th, after two very long full days here in Oswiecim, Poland. Thursday was our last day at Birkenau. We began as usual with our meditation period and then the reading of the names at the Selection Site, the train platform in Birkenau. I missed the religious services taking care of retreat business and returned to Birkenau just in time to begin the interfaith pilgrimage through Birkenau. This Pilgrimage was fist developed by our wonderful German Catholic priest, Fr. Manfred, originally basing it on the Stations of the Cross, from the Christian tradition, choosing various locations in Birkenau to serve as each station. Over the last several years, Fr. Manfred has worked with us to develop this into an interfaith pilgrimage, in which all of our clergy, from whichever faith are represented, join in making various offerings – readings, liturgies, ceremonies – at each station on the pilgrimage, deeply connecting with the events that occurred at each of these locations in the vast Birkenau death and concentration camp. Our pilgrimage finished at the pond between Cremotoria IV and V, where the ashes of hundreds of thousands of victims were deposited. There we offered prayers and memorial candles and finished with singing and dancing in a large circle, raising our spirits and the spirits of all the victims of this place, as we began our transition into the Beyond Auschwitz part of the retreat.
We returned to Birkenau after dinner and held council in one of the prisoner barracks late into the evening. Our friend August, another survivor of Auschwitz and one of the very few successful escapees, now 82 years old, join our council and shared some of his experiences in the camp, exhorting us not to fall into hatred or blaming of the German people for what the Nazis did here. About a dozen of our retreatants elected to remain in the barracks until midnight in silent vigil, being with those who died there.
Today, Friday November 10th, we entered into our Beyond Auschwitz Dialog process. I facilitated on Open Space Technology process and our participants enthusiastically convened many different dialog groups, including one on developing a Bearing Witness Retreat in Rwanda. The results of this Dialog Process will be posted on our Peacemaker Institute online community site in order to continue the dialog online with other past participants of the Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat. We finished our day at 9:30 pm, learning a beautiful African song from our Rwanda friend and participant, Dora Urufeni.
Tomorrow, we continue our dialog process in the morning and end the retreat with a celebratory lunch here at the Center for Dialog and Prayer before returning to Krakow and heading home.