Every year on 6 November, Kraków higher education institutions observe the Academic Remembrance Day to commemorate both the departed members of the academic community and the victims of Sonderaktion Krakau, a Nazi operation carried out in 1939 as part of a larger effort to eradicate the Polish intellectual elite. 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of those terrible events.
‘On the Remembrance Day, we meet here to honour the memory of our dead – those who passed away recently, and those whose names we can find in history books. it is a duty that we fulfil not out of obligation, but out of respect for the values we stand for’, said JU Rector Prof. Wojciech Nowak at the Rakowice Cemetery after the laying of flowers at Kraków professors’ graves.
A large part of the Academic Remembrance Day was devoted to commemorating the victims of Aktion gegen Universitäts-Professoren, commonly referred to by its supposed codename – Sonderaktion Krakau (special operation Kraków). On 6 November 1939, Nazi German authorities treacherously arrested 183 staff members of the Jagiellonian University, University of Mining and Metallurgy, and Kraków Academy of Economics. The detained were first transferred to a prison, then to the military barracks, and lastly to the Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg concentration camp. As a result of disease, starvation, violence, and exposure, 30 of them died in the camp or shortly after they were released. It is to those members of the academic community that were honoured during a special meeting held in the Collegium Novum Assembly Hall.
‘Today we go back to the day that witnessed an unprecedented action against university professors. Defenceless people were violently arrested by the Nazi occupants to prevent the academic community from promoting liberty and openness. It’s a harsh lesson about totalitarianism: it always leads to force, both in thought and in action’, said Prof. Nowak in a short opening speech addressed to the relatives of Sonderaktion Krakau victims, national and regional authorities, members of the diplomatic corps, and professors from the University of Heidelberg – Peter-Christian Müller-Graff and Peter Hommelhoff.
Piotr Ćwik, the Voivode of Małopolska, read the letter sent to the participants of the meeting by President Andrzej Duda. The president stressed the fact that the Nazi authorities decided to use force against the professors in the light of their unshakable determination, patriotic ethos, and firm belief in the mission of the University.
After the meeting, its participants laid flowers under the commemorative plaques located in Collegium Novum and under the Oak of Liberty.