On June 14, 1940, the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, became operational. That same day, the first train full of deportees entered the camp. Among them was the very young Marian KOŁODZIEJ, who had been imprisoned and deported at the age of nineteen.

He survived in the camp through the end of 1944 and was then transferred to Gross Rosen, and later, Buchenwald. In February of 1945, he was again deported, this time to Mauthausen, where on May 6, 1945, he was liberated by General PATTON’s third army. After the war, he graduated from the scenic design department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. He participated in courses in graphic design and painting.
He never spoke about his deportation or the extermination camps until 1992, when he suffered a stroke and half his body became paralyzed. At that point, he undertook drawing as a form of physiotherapy exercise. It was then, after almost fifty years of silence, that the dramatic memories of his youth, the years he spent in concentration camps, resurfaced, resulting in an artwork series he called “Negatives of Memory.”
On January 22, 2024, an exhibition entitled “Negatives of Memory: Labyrinths” was presented in the portico of the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Rome. The artist himself never referred to it as an exhibition. He said: “This is not an exhibition. This is not art. These are words encapsulated in drawing. Art is powerless in the face of what man has prepared for man. I suggest you pass through the labyrinth which is marked by my experiences in the death factory.”
It is a shocking, artistic account that bears witness to the suffering and degradation of the prisoners in Auschwitz. It is also a search for humanity, for human dignity, for what saves us, also following the example of the martyrdom of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe. The artist takes us through an inhuman landscape, asks questions and seeks God. Kolbe, represented in “Negatives,” is called ecce homo, a true man with the features of Christ.
The images are not sequential. Rather, they cause the viewer to lose his or her bearings and end up taking a journey through the artist’s memory. With Marian KOŁODZIEJ, one relives the journey to Auschwitz, amid photos and drawings designed to immerse the viewer in a state of anxiety that is only a prelude to what is waiting once the train stops. “‘Negatives of Memory: Labyrinths’ also poses questions for us,” said Friar Zdzisław J. KIJAS, who presented the exhibition. “In particular, it asks about the future: What will happen next? Will it be different? Is history capable of teaching us anything? Can it keep us from doing something similar?”
The exhibition was attended by Adam KWIATKOSKI, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the Holy See; the Ambassadors of Chile, Colombia, Macedonia and other countries; Wojciech DĄBROWSKI, the President of PGE [Polska Grupa Energetyczna – a public power company in Poland]; Friar Jan MACIEJOWSKI the Vicar General; several friars from our communities in Rome; various other religious; and several lay persons.

Friar Zdzisław KIJAS