30th anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II at Majdanek
June 9, 1987, is one of the most significant dates in the history of the State Museum at Majdanek. On that day the former German Nazi concentration camp at Majdanelk was visited by Pope John Paul II.
The preparation for the visit lasted for several years. The first invitation was sent in 1983. The Society for the Protection of Majdanek minted a medal to commemorate this occasion but the visit did not take place. It was only in 1987 that the plans could be successfully realized after many endeavours to take Lublin and Majdanek into consideration in the programme of John Paul II’s third pilgrimage to his home country.
The visit to Lublin started at Majdanek. On a foggy and rainy June morning, just after nine, a helicopter with Holy Father aboard landed near the Monument to Struggle and Martyrdom. Former prisoners, the Museum employees and the activists from the Society for the Protection of Majdanek had been waiting since six o’clock in the morning along the Road of Homage and Remembrance. Large congregation gathered along the Museum’s fence in order to take part in the event, even though they could only observe everything from the distance.
The programme of the visit included greeting of the guest by local authorities and church representatives, going to the Mausoleum, a short prayer and a trip to the Catholic University of Lublin. No conversations and meetings with the former prisoners were planned — only flowers were to be handed in by one of the former prisoners. The visit was supposed to be short and cameral.
The Pope came to Majdanek accompanied by a group of high-ranking church officials including Primate of Poland, Cardinal Józef Glemp, Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, and the members of the Pope’s entourage. The honourable guests were greeted by Ordinary of Lublin, Bishop Bolesław Pylak, and the representatives of provincial and municipal authorities, Tadeusz Wilk and Tadeusz Pokrzycki.
The Pope covered the first part of the Road of Homage and Remembrance in the company of the representatives of the clergy, security guards and journalists. He greeted and blessed the congregation gathered along the road. Then he was driven to the Mausoleum, where he kneeled and prayed by the ashes of the murdered.
After that, a former prisoner of Pawiak, Majdanek and Oświęcim, Wanda Ossowska approached John Paul II and handed him flowers, greeting him on behalf of all former prisoners and thanking for the visit and the prayer. John Paul II conveyed to Wanda Ossowska and the witnesses of history who survived from the concentration camps the words of love, honour and gratitude for giving the testimony of the truth about the camps.
At the end of the visit to Majdanek, in the presence of cardinals and the director of the Museum, Edward Dziadosz, Holy Father wrote the following words in the Museum Memorial Book: “The souls of just men live in the Lord.”
Words of Wanda Ossowska addressed to John Paul II:
Thank you, Holy Father, for coming here, praying for our brothers, sisters and children who were murdered in such an excruciating way. We love you, Holy Father, and pray so that Holiest Mother and Lord Almighty will watch every step you make as well as give you health and strength. We also ask you for the blessing for us and for those who could not come because of their age or health. Please, bless us.
Words of Holy Father addressed to former prisoners:
Thank you from all my heart for those words. May God reward you.
You talked on behalf of all the former prisoners of Majdanek who are still alive.
I came here and we gathered in order to pay homage to those who were killed but also to those who survived and are the witnesses of the former. Do not cease to be the witnesses of your brothers and sisters whose mortal remains were left here. As it is written on the Mausoleum, do not cease to be the warning for all the generations who come after you because you are stigmatized by the ordeal, the ordeal of peoples, not only our nation but many peoples whose names are mentioned here. I pray for the dead the most heartily and render their souls to God. Our hope is that a man does not die even if he has been tortured to death but he lives in God. I render their souls to God who is the God of life. I convey to the quick and the dead the deep feelings of my honour, love, loyal sense of community, I convey them to you, dear brothers, sisters and the witnesses. Thank you for the witness you bear. Do not cease to bear it.
At this point the perpetrators come to my mind. We think about them and we think in such a way as Christ dying on the cross; we also render them to God’s justice and mercy. However, let everyone remember, let it be the reminder for all the generations that a man cannot be an executioner for another man, but must become his brother.