Greetings from Warsaw - Polen
by Annemarie Schlesiona

Pani Zofia, caregiver, Annemarie


My project consists of two different parts. Most of the time I work at the German-Polish Reconciliation Foundation, or Fundacja Polsko-Niemieckie Pojednanie. My task at the foundation is to complete lists of names of former prisoners in concentration camps by entering these names into various databases and archives and then checking them. This requires very precise research, which can take several weeks for longer lists, with up to 4,000 names. In some cases, I also check or create lists, which are then used on a memorial in a former concentration camp. At this point, the thorough and careful work is particularly important, because neither wrong name should appear, nor do we want that others be forgotten. Furthermore, I also check documents with short biographies of the former prisoners.

The other part of my work is carried out in cooperation with the Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk, where once a week I visit two survivors. Pani Anna is 95 years old and has lived in Warsaw for quite a long time. I meet her on Mondays, before working in the office, together with my roommate Merle. We try to support her mainly in everyday tasks by running errands, doing the dishes, or just helping sort drawers and cupboards. Because Pani Anna lost a leg before the war she is dependent on a prosthesis, which she could not wear for almost a whole year due to an inflammation. During this time, she was bound to a wheelchair, which limited her mobility. The fact that there is no elevator in her apartment building and that she lives on the third floor did not make the circumstances any easier. Fortunately, the inflammation has now healed and Pani Anna is fit enough to walk again with a little help. She is a very warm, bright and lovely lady who loves to laugh and tell stories. She remembers everything from the age of five very well and whatever she talks about, she always mentions at least the year when the event took place.

Every Thursday, I visit Pani Zofia. She is already 97 years old and she lives in her own apartment together with a caregiver. After the war she worked at the newspaper. It was only after a trip to Paris that she decided to write about the events that moved her. Today she is a well-known author in Poland, and a film and an opera based on her book have been published.

I spend almost the entire day with Pani Zofia. We talk about various topics, watch TV, or I search on the Internet for the texts of songs and poems from her time in Auschwitz. It is quite emotional when she recites these songs and poems. For her, these pieces are connected with very specific memories. Sometimes she also tells me very concretely about what she experienced and saw in the camps. These moments are very special for me, because she confides something very personal to me. I can see that it is not easy for her to talk about this time. There are other, beautiful moments that she likes to talk about and then she always does it with a smile. This concerns especially her early childhood, which she often spent with her grandparents in the countryside. Since I myself have relatives in Poland and some of the songs she knows are also familiar to me, we often sing together. But there are days when we just sit together and each of us reads a book.

 I am deeply grateful that I was allowed to get to know both survivors. Above all I am thankful that I still have the opportunity to meet them despite the difficult situation created by Covid. At the beginning, I was admittedly a bit reserved about their past and experiences in the concentration camps, but with time I got a feeling for when they are ready to talk. I sense when I should rather look for an innocuous topic because the past events are still too close and painful for them. The openness, warmth and energy is always refreshing and I am glad that I can help and support them.

The time I spent here in Warsaw was incredibly enriching for me. I was able to get to know a lot of great, loving and warm people. In addition, I learned a lot about the history of Germany, Poland and Ukraine. I convinced myself of how important the work of ASF is. Not only for us volunteers, who learn a lot, but also for all the people we reach and support with our work. I have become aware of how important it really is to remember history and I want to do my part, as best I can, through my work at ASF.

My name is Annemarie Schlesiona; I come from Salzgitter. In Germany I was involved in the youth movement in my sports club. In addition, I wanted to also make a contribution in the field of historical education. With ASF/ARSP I was able to accomplish this goal. I hope that my peace service contributes to remembering and that history is not forgotten.