Auschwitz-Birkenau: Bearing Witness

October 31 - November 6, 2021

Since Bernie Glassman, Jishu Holmes, Eve Marko and Andrezej Krajewski began the annual Bearing Witness Retreat at the old site of the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland in 1996, the Zen Peacemakers have been returning for over twenty years to continue to bear witness to oneness in diversity, in the place that became a mythic symbol of humanity’s tendency to intolerance. Much has been written about these annual retreats; at least half a dozen films have been made about them in various languages. Not confined to Buddhists, Zen Peacemakers members, or only those who have been affected by the place and the narrative surrounding it — the retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau is open to all, is multi-faith and multinational in character, and has a strong focus on the Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Taking Action.

Most of each day is spent sitting by the train tracks at Birkenau, both in silence and in chanting the names of the dead. We walk through the vast camps, perform vigils and memorial services inside the women’s, men’s and children’s barracks. Participants meet daily in small Council groups designed to create a safe place for people to share their inner experiences, and evening programs are specifically designed to address the needs of the whole.

Throughout the years the Auschwitz Retreat, Zen Peacemakers’ flagship annual event, has become the gathering place of Zen Peacemakers from around the world.

Oct 31 - Nov 6
2021

Since Bernie Glassman, Jishu Holmes, Eve Marko and Andrezej Krajewski began the annual Bearing Witness Retreat at the old site of the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland in 1996, the Zen Peacemakers have been returning for over twenty years to continue to bear witness to oneness in diversity, in the place that became a mythic symbol of humanity’s tendency to intolerance. Much has been written about these annual retreats; at least half a dozen films have been made about them in various languages. Not confined to Buddhists, Zen Peacemakers members, or only those who have been affected by the place and the narrative surrounding it — the retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau is open to all, is multi-faith and multinational in character, and has a strong focus on the Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets: Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Taking Action.

Most of each day is spent sitting by the train tracks at Birkenau, both in silence and in chanting the names of the dead. We walk through the vast camps, perform vigils and memorial services inside the women’s, men’s and children’s barracks. Participants meet daily in small Council groups designed to create a safe place for people to share their inner experiences, and evening programs are specifically designed to address the needs of the whole.

Throughout the years the Auschwitz Retreat, Zen Peacemakers’ flagship annual event, has become the gathering place of Zen Peacemakers from around the world.

The Labyrinth

Marian takes the audience on a journey through his drawings and art installations. Through the blending of his testimony and the graphic drawings, we explore the memories and nightmares of a man, who like so many others buried experiences deep within. Why would a confrontation with death late in life, trigger the need to record his long-suppressed memories? And why in this graphic, metaphorical way? This documentary raises these questions in a visually stunning way. 

Marian was in the same roll call and cell block as Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, who voluntarily took the place of a prisoner condemned to death and was subsequently executed. This self-less act became legendary in Auschwitz and inspired the entire camp—somehow an act of love and courage stood as a testament to good in the face of overwhelming evil. Marian’s numerous drawings of Kolbe are stark and iconographic. Kolbe is now a saint in the Catholic Church.

This is eyewitness testimony that is unique in the annals of documenting the Holocaust. Marian is a Polish Catholic, who has used his drawings to give testimony to the horrors of Auschwitz and of the world today, and whose body of work provides a testament to suffering and ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’

About Marian Kołodziej

Marian Kolodziej was on one of the first transports to enter Auschwitz. He was given number 432. He survived and never spoke of his experience for 50 years. After a serious stroke in 1993, he began rehabilitation by doing pen and ink drawings depicting the experiences he and others endured in the concentration camp. These drawings, in their skeletal detail, are a gripping depiction of the pain, death, and horrors of the camp. While most of the drawings represent the memories of a young man’s hellish experiences in Auschwitz, some tell stories of small acts of kindness and dignity.

Marian’s story of survival, of persistence, of life before, during, and after Auschwitz are a testament to the human spirit. Marian’s drawings and art installations, which he called The Labyrinth, fill the large basement of a church near Auschwitz and draw visitors into the horrific reality of the holocaust. 

‘This is not an exhibition, nor art. These are not pictures. These are words locked in drawings…I propose a journey by way of this labyrinth marked by the experience of the fabric of death…It is a rendering of honor to all those who have vanished in ashes.’   -Marian Kolodziej

Auschwitz-Birkenau
Bearing Witness Retreat Info

Registration Information

Please fill out the 2021 Auschwitz Registration Form (Click Here). This form provides important information before purchasing your Retreat Ticket. Upon submission, you will be redirected to our secure Event Page for payment.

Covid Information

We support our attendees’ concern for security and safety and we require all those registering to provide a photo image of their Covid vaccination card. We will, of course, follow the Covid regulations in place at the time of the retreat on site as well. Every country may have different regulations and types of certificates needed for entry/exit/re-entry at different times. For example, some countries currently require proof of testing negative (with a an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT)) 3 days prior to re-entry. This may change; however, participants are asked to be aware of the regulation updates for their destination. Please be advised that the testing fees are not included in the retreat fees. Although costs will be covered personally, we will assist in making this service accessible. We are currently researching having a mobile testing unit on-site.

Retreat Information

Please arrange to arrive in Krakow by Sunday evening, October 31, 6:00 pm.
Please plan your departure from Krakow no earlier than noon on Saturday, November 6.

ARRIVAL: Please arrange to attend the Arrival Registration in Krakow, Sunday October 31st, between 6:00 – 7:30pm. All Participants will need to book their own hotel room for Oct. 31st (see below for options).

DEPARTURE: Please make travel arrangements to leave from Krakow Airport (KRK) or train station no sooner than 12pm on November 6th. Shuttles will take all wishing participants from the retreat’s site and drop off 1st at Krakow airport, 2nd at train station and 3rd at city center by 12pm.

Travel Encouragement:

Arrive a few days before to adjust after your travel, explore beautiful Krakow and leave at least a day later to allow integration of your retreat experience before returning home.

ARRIVAL: Arrive to Krakow for the DATE registration check-in between TIME.

DEPARTURE: Make travel arrangements to leave from Krakow Airport (KRK) or train station no sooner than TIME & DATE. Shuttles will take all wishing participants from the retreat’s site and drop off 1st at Krakow airport, 2nd at train station and 3rd at city center by TIME.

Travel Encouragement:

Arrive a few days before to adjust after your travel, explore beautiful Krakow and leave at least a day later to allow integration of your retreat experience before returning home.

Also, make arrangements no sooner than DATE, to comply with any unlikely changes in this schedule.

Kraków

We recommend you tour Krakow before or after the retreat to add to your experience. Self-guided tours or guides are available – the tours are not included in your fee.

Krakow Tour – 

  1. Main Square, including: Sukiennice (the Cloth Hall), the old city hall tower, and the houses around the square
  2. Mariacki Cathedral and square next to it with a fountain.  Every hour you can hear the Mariacki bugle-call
  3. Take Grocka Str. and from there turn into Kannonicza Str.
  4. Wawel Hill with the castle and the cathedral, and the dragon cave nearby
  5. Take the path through Blonia (green park around the Main Square) along Święta Gertruda Str. (Saint Gertruda Str.) till Sienna Str. turn to Mały Rynek (the Small Square) and follow Florianska Str.
  6. Go to the end of Florianska Str. and go to Florianska Gate: there you can see the old city walls
  7. Barbakan
  8. Go back to Świętego Jana Str. (Saint John Str.) – Czartoryski Museum with Leonardo da Vinci painting “Lady with the Ermine”
  9. Świętego Tomasza Str. (Saint Thomas Str.) and Szczepanski Square with The Old Theatre
  10. Collegium Maius of Jagiellonian University, 15 Jagiellonska Str.

Resources

Ka-Tzetnik 135633, Shivitti: A Vision (A must read – recommend by Bernie Glassman)

Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (also published as If This Is a Man)

Elie Wiesel, Night

Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941- 1943

Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After

Claude Lanzmann, Shoah – An Oral History of the Holocaust

Jean-Francois Steiner, Treblinka

Wladyslaw Szpilman, The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

Ka-Tzetnik 135633. Kaddish

Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess