—Jonathan Webber (2006)
International Youth Meeting Center in Oświęcim/Auschwitz is an
educational institution whose campus lies between the center of the
Polish city of
Oświęcim and the former German concentration camp of
Auschwitz. More than one million persons, mostly Jewish and Polish,
were murdered at Auschwitz during the Second World War (1939–1945).
Proposed in 1971, the Center was opened in 1986 following years of
planning, negotiations, and fundraising. It seeks to "develop
the understanding of
National Socialism and its consequences,
particularly among young Germans, through dialogue and encounter
between people of different origins", and is particularly engaged with
Germans and Poles, Christians and Jews. In 2010, the Center hosted
more than 17,000 overnight stays by youth groups participating in its
programs. Many young Germans and Austrians have held year-long
voluntary positions at the Center that satisfy their civilian service
(Zivildienst) responsibility. One of these, Robert Thalheim, wrote and
directed the German-language dramatic film And Along Come Tourists
(2007) that features the Center and its activities.
The Polish and German names for the Center are Międzynarodowy Dom
Spotkań Młodzieży w Oświęcimiu and Internationale
Jugendbegegnungsstätte in Oświęcim/Auschwitz, respectively; the two
names are conjoined in the abbreviation MDSM/IJBS for the Center.
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
The idea for the construction of a youth meeting center in Poland came
from Volker von Törne (1934–1980), who saw an opportunity for
creating it following the signing of the 1970 Treaty of Warsaw between
West Germany and Poland. von Törne was a poet and then business
manager of the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP), which
is a private German organization (Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienst)
working towards reconciliation with countries and peoples harmed
during German occupation in World War II. Following von Törne's death
in 1980, Christoph Heubner led the project for ARSP. In a 1986
interview, Heubner explained the importance of placing the Center near
Auschwitz, which "symbolized the lowest point in German-Polish
history, the lowest point in Jewish-German relations, one of the
lowest points in man's inhumanity to man. The motivation to speak with
one another is greater there. The greater emotion opens people up more
for dialogue than would be the case in
Masuria [an area in northeast
Poland] or in some sunny mountain meadow."
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the proposal was very controversial.
The location of the buildings, the architecture of the project, the
operations as well as the Polish partner for the ARSP were contentious
issues. In 1978,
Andreas Maislinger unsuccessfully approached
Rudolf Kirchschläger about Austrian support for the
The project received the support of many survivors of the
concentration camps at Dachau, Stutthof, Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and
by December 1985 a turning point was reached. Alfred Przybylski,
former prisoner #471 at the Auschwitz camp and the representative of
the Union of Polish Architects, supported by the plans drawn up by
German architect Helmut Morlok, contributed decisively to the
realization of the project.
After obtaining contributions of 4.6 million Deutschmarks ($2.1
million), sufficient for 2/3 of the construction costs, ground was
finally broken in May 1986. The handoff of the initial buildings to
the foundation that operates it was celebrated on December 7, 1986,
which was the sixteenth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of
Warsaw. The entire building project was completed in October, 1998.
The Center is primarily supported by the Polish municipality of
Oświęcim and by the ARSP, which sponsors three such
centers. In 2010, the Center hosted more than 17,000 overnight
stays by youth groups participating in its programs.
The Center has become well known in German-speaking Europe following
release of the dramatic film Am Ende kommen Touristen (2007) (And
Along Come Tourists), which was partly filmed at the Center. The film
was written and directed by Robert Thalheim. While the film's
characters and story are fictional, in writing the screenplay Thalheim
drew from his own experience as a German civilian service worker at
the Center in 1996-97.
The Center is on one bank of the
Soła river, and consists of several
pavilions laid out around a large garden. There is a forum, a
multi-purpose room, a library, and four seminar rooms. There are about
one hundred beds, as well as a campground and a sports field.
Katrin Buchholz has described the architecture as follows: "Modesty in
construction and form, simplicity in the interior furnishings, ... the
center of the campus is a meeting place that is open in all directions
... where all can move or loiter freely and unobserved, and in which
one can find community but also security, as well as time and space to
The Center sponsors activities of several types, including workshops
to bring together groups of Polish and German students, seminars and
development programs for adults and teachers, and exhibitions for
general visitors. Groups using the Center typically stay for four or
five days. In addition to visits to the remains of the concentration
camps Auschwitz I, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz,
groups can plan excursions in the area, especially to the city of
Kraków, and conversations can be arranged with experts on the major
concerns of the Center.
The Center has been among the sites for the work of young German and
Austrian citizens doing civilian service (Zivildienst) sponsored by
the ARSP, the German Internationaler Bund, and by the Austrian
Holocaust Memorial Service.
Anne Frank Educational Centre (Frankfurt). A youth meeting center
supported by the Anne Frank Foundation.
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. A museum and research institution
associated with the Auschwitz camps.
International Youth Meeting Centre in Krzyżowa. A second youth
meeting center in Poland that is devoted to dialogue and
reconciliation between Poland and Germany. The Centre was founded
after an historic 1989 meeting of Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz
Mazowiecki and the German Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
International Youth Meeting Center in Israel. A second ARSP-sponsored
youth meeting center in Israel.
Oświęcim Synagogue. The 1913 synagogue was restored and re-opened in
2000; it serves the small local community as well as visitors. The
synagogue is part of the
Auschwitz Jewish Center
Auschwitz Jewish Center (Centrum Żydowskie w
Oświęcimiu), which also incorporates a museum and an education
^ Webber, Jonathan (2006). "Memory, Religion, and Conflict at
Auschwitz: A Manifesto". In Stier, Owen Baruch; Landres, J. Shawn.
Religion, Violence, Memory, and Place. Indiana University Press.
p. 66. ISBN 9780253347992. OCLC 70122483.
Webber's quote refers to the International Youth Meeting Center (the
present article), the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim
opened in 1992, and the
Auschwitz Jewish Center
Auschwitz Jewish Center opened in 2000. Webber
is presently a professor at Jagiellonian University; he is a British
social anthropologist with special expertise on European Judaism and
European Jews. See "Jonathan Webber". Jagiellonian University.
^ a b "West German, Polish officials open Auschwitz youth center".
Associated Press (AP). December 7, 1986.
^ a b c Pond, Elizabeth (December 29, 1986). "Auschwitz youth center
founded on need for emotion, reflection. Group sees donation of center
as victory for healing process". The Christian Science Monitor.
Article published on the occasion of the Center's opening; it
incorporates parts of an interview with Christian Heubner. Elizabeth
Pond was a foreign correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor
from 1967-1988 (see "Europe in the 21st Century"). She is the author
of numerous books and articles on foreign policy and international
^ a b "France, Israel, Poland: Three international Meeting Centres".
Action Reconciliation Service for Peace.
^ a b Meier, Anna (2010). "IJBS Auschwitz/Oświęcim". Jahresbericht
2010 [Annual Report 2010] (PDF) (in German). Aktion Sühnezeichen
Friedensdienst. p. 39.
^ "VW honours Christoph Heubner". International Auschwitz Committee.
March 16, 2011. The Volkswagen company sends employees to the
Center annually, and has supported it financially since 1986. In 2011
the company honored Christian Heubner, who has long been associated
with the Center and with the International Auschwitz Committee.
^ Maislinger, Andreas (December 1979). "Internationale
Jugendbegegnungsstätte Auschwitz" [The International Youth Meeting
Center in Auschwitz]. Kritisches Christentum (in German). 33. Archived
from the original on 2013-10-04.
^ Buchholz, Christian (January 2012). "Spiritualität und politische
Bildung in der Internationalen Jugendbegegnungsstätte Auschwitz: Ein
'heilsames Haus'" [Spirituality and political development in the
International Youth Meeting Center at Auschwitz: A house for healing].
Deutsches Pfarrerblatt (in German). History of the Center on the
occasion of its 25th anniversary, including 25 literature references.
^ a b Morlok, Helmut (2011). "Ein Haus des Dialogs" [A House of
Dialogue] (in German). Action Reconciliation Service for Peace.
A history of the Center written by its architect on the occasion of
its 25th anniversary.
^ "Alfred Przybylski: Häftling 471 – ein großer Humanist" [Alfred
Przybylski: prisoner 471 – a great humanist]. Deutsches
Architektenblatt (in German). November 20, 2011.
^ "Auf der anderen Seite der Welt" [On the other side of the world].
Deutsches Architektenblatt (in German). November 30, 2011.
History of the Center and especially of its architecture.
^ Toporowsky, Georg; Müller, Bruno; Drewes, Jürgen (2009). "Helmut
Morlok: vom Adolf-Hitler-Schüler zum Architekten der Versöhnung"
[Helmut Morlok: from Hitler youth to an architect of reconciliation]
(PDF) (in German). Eifel National Park.
^ "Über die Stiftung" [About the Foundation] (in German).
^ Louk, Lidia (September 14, 2007). "Interview with 'And Along Come
Tourists' Director Robert Thalheim". The Epoch Times.
^ Buchholz, Katrin (2000). Die Internationale Jugendbegegnungsstätte
Auschwitz und ihr Auftrag zur Verständigung und Versöhnung –
Religionspädagogische und didaktische Perspektiven. p. 62ff.
Bescheidenheit in Konstruktion und Form, Einfachheit bei der inneren
Ausstattung, … Kernstück der Anlage ist ein nach allen Richtungen
offener Begegnungshof … wo sich jeder frei und unbeobachtet bewegen
und aufhalten kann in der man Gemeinschaft aber auch Geborgenheit
sowie Zeit und Platz für sich alleine finden kann. Unpublished
work cited in Buchholz, Christian (January 2012). "Spiritualität und
politische Bildung in der Internationalen Jugendbegegnungsstätte
Auschwitz: Ein 'heilsames Haus'". Deutsches Pfarrerblatt (in
^ Ainetter, Bernhard (October 1997). "Mehr als nur Pflicht...Der
Gedenkdienst als Alternative zum Zivildienst" [More than a
Duty...Memorial Service as an Alternative to Civilian Service].
Unipress (Innsbruck) (in German). Archived from the original on
Allen, Michael Thad (2007). "Realms of Oblivion: The Vienna Auschwitz
Trial" (PDF). Central European History. 40: 1–32.
doi:10.1017/s0008938907000787. Alfred Przybylski's testimony is
noted briefly in this article about a trial leading to the dismissal
of charges against two of the planners of the Auschwitz concentration
John, Thomas (August 15, 2002). "Verdienstkreuz für Christoph
Heubner" [Order of merit for Christoph Heubner] (in German).
Press release on the occasion of the award of Germany's Knight's Cross
to Christoph Heubner, who worked on negotiations and planning for the
Center during the 1980s.
"Bundesverdienstkreuz für Verdienste um die Aussöhnung mit dem
Nachbarland Polen" [Order of Merit for service towards reconciliation
with the neighbor country Poland] (in German). Niedersächsisches
Kultusministerium. 2004. Retrieved 2014-05-24. Press release on
the occasion of the award of Germany's Knight's Cross to Helmut
Morlok, the architect of the Center.
"Internationale Jugendbegegnunstätte in Oświęcim/Auschwitz"
[International Youth Meeting Center] (in German and Polish).
MDSM/IJBS. Website of the International Youth Meeting Center.
"Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim". This Centre near
the Auschwitz camps is a Catholic institution opened in 1992. The
Centre is "a place for reflection, education, sharing and prayer for
all those who are moved by what happened here. The Centre commemorates
the victims and contributes to creating mutual respect,
reconciliation, and peace in the world." A convent is adjacent to the
Centre; it was relocated there after a controversy about the convent's
original location, which was adjacent to one of the Auschwitz