Fr. Tom Cassidy, now on sabbatical after completing his second term as provincial superior of the US Province, is writing a journal during his trip to Poland in October. During his sabbatical Fr. Tom is spending time in many of the locations for which he had responsibility when he was on General Council. Next spring he will spend extended time in Asia, helping in the missions of India and the Philippines. Here, writes from Poland:
Fr. Micheal Ciemiçega and I drove from Warsaw to Stadniki with a stop for lunch at the SCJ novitiate located at Stopnica. The building has a long and storied history that goes back several centuries. It was purchased from the Franciscans after World War II and as with many buildings in Poland, it suffered extensive damage during the war.
There are currently three novices who began their novitiate year last month. I was told there are eight postulants though their house is about 100 kilometers from Stopnica.
In addition to stopping to see the place it also afforded us the opportunity to join the community for lunch.
Upon our arrival at Stadniki, where SCJ students study philosophy and theology, I had the opportunity to get in my daily walk. Stadniki itself is not very big but happily there was a sidewalk that kept me out of the road, though traffic was light to say the least.
At present there are 19 students. The majority are Polish but several other Eastern European countries are represented, i.e., Croatia, Byelorussia and, if my memory serves me, Moldavia. I had the chance to spend a half hour with the students this evening talking about SCJ life in the United States. All the students are studying English but their grasp of the language varied greatly so two of the students translated from time to time.
The school year here began last week. They follow the European tradition of an October start. In addition they follow the Jesuit model of Thursday off and classes on Saturday. All of their studies are done here at Stadniki. The deacons travel to Krakow for a course and practicum at a hospital a bit akin to CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) in the US.
On my first visit to Poland I did not have time to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and wanted to make sure I could find the time to see first-hand this sad chapter in history. Words in many ways fail to convey what took place and how sinister human beings can become in their treatment of their fellow human beings.
It is good that much of what took place here has been preserved and that so many come to see for themselves how the “final solution” was carried out with such precision.
Stadnike is about an hour and a half drive to Auschwitz, but here in Poland it is called Oswiecim. When the Nazis defeated the Poles and took over they changed the names of places so that they would be easier to pronounce in German. The reason Auschwitz was chosen as a concentration camp was both its location that provided excellent rail transportation as well as the fact that it was the site of a Polish military camp — that’s why most of the buildings in Auschwitz are made of brick.
Fr. Michael and I left the house about 8:30 so that we could be there in time for the first English tour at 10:30. For most of the day there are English tours every hour while other language groups may be less often or perhaps have their own guide with them, as is often the case for Jewish groups I was told.
I certainly spotted a number of groups of young Israelis during our 3 1/2 hour tour. The tour takes you through Auschwitz (1) and then the groups are bused over to Birkenau — it’s about a five-minute ride. Auschwitz was actually a series of camps that began with the military barracks (Auschwitz 1) and over time grew to encompass Birkenau where most of the mass killing occurred as well as labor camps where prisoners worked, actually worked to death might be a better way to put it.
As I said in the first paragraph words cannot really describe what took place and what is felt by visitors today. Only what is left behind can give a voice to those who died here.