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When Liberation Comes

7 February 2012

South Central

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When guests to the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer ask me where I am from, I usually mischievously say “guess.” Unfortunately Ireland is not the first country they mention, nor the second. But when there is a moment of recognition, this is followed by stories of visits and the tasting of the black stuff! However, when I mention “Mercy,” adults with connections to Mercy immediately respond and the childhood stories are told of happy memories and associations with Mercy in countries as far away as Australia and United States. 

Sister of Mercy

                                              Mary O'Sullivan rsm

It is the end of January at the moment and the past week has been a special one in Oswiecim/Auschwitz. The UN established January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on January 27th 1945 that the Russian army liberated Auschwitz- Birkenau. This year we had many interesting guests, groups, and most importantly several survivors staying in the Centre. Lidia and Pnina were child survivors of Auschwitz Birkenau.   Lidia was 3 years of age when she arrived in Birkenau on a transport from Belarus. Pnina was also 3 and came from a Polish Jewish family who were forced into a ghetto before a transport took them to Birkenau. Both children were separated from their mothers upon arrival and some of Pnina’s family were sent directly to the gas chambers. After the war the girls found new homes with local families in the town of Oswiecim (Polish for Auschwitz).  


                                                  Town of Oswiecim

Kasia a seventeen year old girl from the town found Pnina in the children’s barrack of Birkenau a few days after liberation and brought her home. Lidia was adopted by a childless couple in the town. Unknown to both children, their real mothers had survived. Pnina’s mother found her two months later with the help of the Red Cross but for Lidia it took seventeen years before she received information that her mother had survived. Pnina and her mother made new lives in Israel but Pnina never talked about her ‘past life’ until the 1990’s. She was then reunited with her Polish ‘sister’ Kasia.  Since then she brings groups of Israeli young people to Poland as part of her responsibility to testify after Auschwitz and to tell the story of her Polish ‘angel’ who sadly died on Yom Kippur October 2011. A reunion with Lidia’s birth mother took place in the Soviet Union. Lidia continued to live in Poland after the reunion and keeps contact with her sister. She now speaks to school and community groups.


 Centre for Dialogue and Prayer

There were many stories shared during that week and many lives touched in the process including my own. In the Centre we try in a small way to create a place where trust, listening, silence, reflection, dialogue and prayer can happen at the edge of Auschwitz so that the last word after Auschwitz is not one of hate, evil, and death but rather one of hope, reconciliation, life and peace.                           

Mary O'Sullivan rsm

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