The Mystery "Day of Five Prayers"

The idea, which turned into the scenario of the Mystery, arose from the important moment when prisoners entering the concentration camp were deprived of their names and were assigned numbers instead. In this way, their identity was taken away from them. The goal of the Mystery was to symbolize the act of returning the prisoners their names and to oblige subsequent generations to remember their fate.

The Mystery “Day of Five Prayers” took place on November 7, 2000, in the former Majdanek camp. The participants of this Mystery were: the former prisoners of Majdanek, clergymen representing five denominations (Catholics, Muslims, Members of the Orthodox Church, Protestants, and Jews) and citizens of Lublin.

The Mystery commenced before entering the camp. The participants of the Mystery left the mark of their participation in the ceremony by imprinting their fingerprints in the prepared clay plates. The participants of the Mystery marched along the way running through the camp. This route was mapped out by five spots. In these places, prayers were said by: the Patriarch of Romania Tekosyt from the Orthodox Church, Imam Stefan Mucharski representing Muslims, Bishop Zdzisław Tranda from Evangelical-Reformed Church, Cardinal William Keeler from the Catholic Church, and the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff.

The first prayer was said near the Selective Square, the second close to the entrance to the Third Field, the third and fourth in the very Field, and the last one near the crematory. After finishing the third prayer, each clergyman left the imprints of his palm on one common plate.
In the place of the last prayer, several hundreds of plates from fired clay with impressed random prisoner numbers were put on the ground. Ex-prisoners of the camp stood next to these plates; each of them held a plate with his/her impressed number. During the Mystery, they read out testimonies creating a kind of a “choir”. The testimonies related to the specific places in which the participants of the Mystery led by the above-mentioned clergymen were standing in the given moment. They were heard all over the camp thanks to loudspeakers.

After the last prayer, the prisoners who formed the “choir” placed the plates on the ground next to the remaining items. The symbolic act of entrusting the next generation with the memory about the tragic event took place. Passing by, the participants of the Mystery picked up the plates and took them. Symbolically, they were taking the Memory of this place – Majdanek. Each person who took a plate with a number could acquire more information about the person carrying this particular number in the archives of the Majdanek Museum. It was a symbolic gesture of returning the stolen names and identity to the prisoners of the camp.


“Choir” – a tale about a camp

Texts spoken by the “choir” of prisoners created a dramatic tale about the camp. It started with memories related to their arrival to Majdanek, selection, receiving of a number, and it concluded with the description of the execution of 18 000 Jews in November 1943. The prisoners reading one by one the memories of other survivors introduced themselves:

I. “My name is Alina Zaborek-Drynowska
I had the camp number 279
I was a prisoner in Majdanek”

II. “My name is Ewa Walecka-Kozłowska
I had the camp number 920
I was a prisoner in Majdanek”

III. “My name is Stanisława Wilczak-Kruszewska
I don’t remember the camp number – I was a child then”

IV. “My name is Zdzisław Badio
I had the camp number 16291
I was a prisoner in Majdanek”

V. “My name is Adolf Górski
I had the camp number 1400
I was a prisoner in Majdanek”


The texts of the memories:

I. “We were observing an unending line of people coming from the road to the Camp. [They are walking slowly, with bundles, densely guarded by the SS soldiers armed with machine guns ready to shoot and keeping on leash several tens of wolves, Great Danes and Dobermans].The nudity of women, who seemed insane, stood out clearly against the background of the grey crowd. They were completely naked or in rugged clothes, and the escorting SS soldiers were running back and forth along the slowly moving column, brandishing their arms, and were beating them.” Zacheusz Pawlak and Jerzy Kwiatkowski

II. “The square next to the gas chambers was called “Rosengarten”, there were many versions related to that name. One of them had it that among the gathered people there were young and pretty Jewish girls. The SS soldiers would enter the fenced area and make a very thorough search. During the very embarrassing search for valuables, the girls would blush ashamed. One of the Germans noticed that and said to the other – „Look, they blush like roses” – „Yes, indeed, it looks like a garden of roses” – the other replied. And so the name stayed. It was here that the families were separated. Healthy mothers were separated from their children, who together with the old, the sick and the handicapped were taken to the square surrounded by barbed-wire near the baths. They waited there for their turn to the gas chamber. The others were dressed in striped garments and placed in the camp. I survived...” Zacheusz Pawlak

III. “They place us in front of a barrack and we wait. We see prisoners in grey clothes with blue stripes, horribly emaciated, bended and hardly dragging themselves. (...) Some SS-soldiers arrive and tell us to go to the empty barrack. There we have to undress quickly and hold all valuable things and clothes in our hands. That’s an order. We wait maybe for an hour. Finally the reading of the transport list starts; the read-out ones go to the other side of the barrack. Reading of seven hundred surnames takes a long time. They place a table, at which we register and get numbers stamped on a metal sheet from cut tins. I get the number 8830.” Jerzy Kwiatkowski

IV. “I am constantly hungry - hunger is an overwhelming feeling and thoughts about food completely monopolize my mind. It turns out that I have lost nearly 20 kg in 7 weeks. My organism has used up the entire fat reserve, the ribs are clearly visible under the skin, my belly is sunken, I don’t have buttocks at all, my legs and arms look like shin bones. In the first weeks of my staying there the organism had something to draw onto, but what is going to happen after the following 7 weeks? If I lose another 20 kg, I will have no strength to get up from the straw mattress. And what happens next, that’s obvious. Almost every day someone from my block lays on the ground during the roll call, then they “go” to the camp infirmary and either they die there or they do not pass the “exam” before the selection commission, which makes an inspection every two weeks, and they are sent to the gas chamber. Every now and then you can hear how many sick people were sent to be gassed.” Jerzy  Kwiatkowski

V. “(...) after the hair-cut, the decisive moment comes. You stand 10 steps before the head of the camp and slowly you go straight at him. At some point his horsewhip indicates which direction you should go to: left or right, to the gas chamber or to work. The approaching person perfectly feels the importance of the moment and with bated breath experiences the moment that cannot be described with any human words. (...) This moment, when you get near the master of your life, looking with glassy eyes at his horsewhip, at the end of which your fate is hanging, is - despite the resignation dragging behind you – so strong that it is sufficient to make the black hair go white. The trade of segregating people into “the left ones” and “the right ones” is watched  with great tension by everyone. It was apparent that the old, the sick, the frail and the people broken by the age or ordeals went to the right, while the well-built and strong, mainly young people, went to the left. Those observations alone made an effect on the attitude of the awaiting persons.” Natan Żelechower

VI. “At that time, the prisoners were gassed with Zyklon B from one - or five - kilogram tins and with gas from steel cylinders placed outside the chamber in a special annex, just at the entrance door. The gas was spread from the cylinder by pipes (with holes) encircling the chamber inside just above the ground. In the wall between the annex and the chamber, there was a small window with thick bars and glass. The SS troopers observed through it the agony of the suffocating prisoners, regulating at the same time the inflow of gas from the cylinder. (...) after gassing, the corpses of the Jews were transported on a wagon for several hundreds of meters behind the baths, in the direction of Lublin; it went back and forth between the gas chambers and several fire – stakes. Those stakes looked like this: iron gratings were put on the foundation. Sometimes instead of grating, a lorry chassis or parts of rails were placed. Under such a scaffolding, wood, coke and carbon was loaded. The corpses were stacked up in several layers on the grating and then they were poured with inflammable liquid, set on fire and interlaid with logs of wood.” Zacheusz Pawlak

VII. “(...) it turned out that we were told to take the metal number from the neck of each corpse after unloading it in the crematory and to write the number on the chest of the corpse. I had to stand astride over the lying dead body, disentangle from its neck the simple wire, at which a piece of metal sheet cut from a tin was strung. On that metal sheet, small numerals were stamped, which were the proof of identity of each prisoner in the camp, as they lost their names and surnames there. Next, holding the wire with the number in one hand, I had to spit onto the corpse’s chest and write on it – with a chemical pencil - the number stamped on the metal sheet. The metal sheets with numbers were the most important as they had to be given back to someone.” Andrzej Stanisławski

VIII. “Suddenly some music, some pitiful Tango Milonga and then a waltz by Strauss. It is music from the records broadcast through a loudspeaker. The sound comes from the direction of the crematory. Where has the loudspeaker come from, it has never been used before. The music keeps going unceasingly. Disc after disc. A plane is making circles low over the camp; it is such a horrible whirr that I cannot hear my own voice. There were short breaks between the discs and then you could hear muffled “ta ta ta – ta ta ta”, as the shots from a hand machine gun. The loudspeaker plays for the whole day and from time to time a series of shots from the machine gun. New columns of Jewish men and women keep moving along the road next to our field. The twilight falls, the sounds of music still fill the air. The night comes, the music stops, the slaughter is finished.” Jerzy Kwiatkowski