Forty-eight-year-old Polish historian and activist, Piotr Cywinski, has attracted global attention after offering to lead 119 other volunteers to spend a month in Nigerian prison in order for convicted Nigerian teens, Umar Farouq to be set free.
In his September 25, 2020, a dated letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking freedom for the juvenile, Cywinski insists that if Buhari is unable to facilitate the teenager’s release, he and others would serve a month so that the teen, who was convicted of blasphemy can regain freedom.
He also promised to “make an attempt to provide financial help for the boy’s proper education,” if the request for clemency is granted. “This way, instead of a destroyed young man, Nigeria will gain awareness, and educated young citizen.”
Cywinski’s request came only a few days after the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appealed to the Kano State government to reverse the jail sentence handed the 13-year-old by a Sharia court for “using disparaging language on Allah” during a disagreement with his friend.
In the seven-paragraph letter, Cywinski, who is the director of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum wrote: “I permit myself to write to you personally about a young boy named Omar Farouq, who was convicted recently in a Sharia court in Kano State in North West Nigeria after being accused of blasphemy used during an argument with a friend.
“As the director of the Auschwitz Memorial, that commemorates the victims and preserves the remains of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, where children were imprisoned and murdered, I cannot remain indifferent to this disgraceful sentence for humanity.
“I wish to request the pardon of this 13-year-old boy. Regardless of what he said, he cannot be treated as fully aware and responsible, given his age. He should not be subjected to the loss of the entirety of his youth, be deprived of opportunities, and stigmatized physically, emotionally, and educationally for the rest of his life. I am convinced that the authority you possess can still undo this sentence,” he wrote.
Cywinski continued: “However if it turns out that the words of this child absolutely require 120 months of imprisonment, and even you are not able to change that, I suggest that in place of the child, 120 adult volunteers from all over the world, gathered by us – myself personally among them – should each serve a month in a Nigeria prison. In total, the price for the child’s transgression will be the same, and we will all avoid the worst.
“You will undoubtedly agree with the statement that human rights begin with the rights of the child. I kindly ask you to consider my proposal favorably,” he concluded.
ACCORDING to Wikipedia, Cywinski, who spent his childhood in Warsaw, Poland, lived in Switzerland and France between 1982 and 1993 due to the political exile of his father, Bohdan Cywinski, a philosopher, historian, and journalist. His mother Maria-Malgorzata is the daughter of the artist Zbigniew Łoskot.
After he graduated from the Université des sciences humaines in Strasbourg (1993) as a historian of the Middle Ages, and the Catholic University of Lublin (1995), Cywiński obtained his Ph.D. degree at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS) in 2001.
In 1996–2000, he served as vice-president of Club of Catholic Intelligentsia (KIK) in Warsaw, followed by ten years as the President. Since 2010, he has been a Board Member of KIK.
In 2002, he co-founded the multicultural St. Adalbert’s Forum, which he chaired for approximately eight years, and co-organised the Congresses of Gniezno, in 2003, 2004, and 2005. In 2004, Cywinski was elected vice-president (and regional president for Europe) of the global federation of Catholic intellectuals Pax Romana ICMICA/MIIC for the mandate 2004-2008.
Between 2000 and 2006, Cywinski served as Secretary of the International Council of Auschwitz Memorial Site. On 12 June 2006, Cywinski was nominated for director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a position he assumed on September 1 that year, replacing Jerzy Wróblewski, who had been the director since 1990.
He was also co-creator of the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust and vice president of the centre’s council. In 2009, Cywinski co-created the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and since then serves as president of the foundation.
From 2009 to 2018, Cywinski has been a member of the Museums’ Council to the Minister of Culture, and in 2010 was appointed as a member of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites. He also serves as vice-president of the Council of Museum of Poland’s Independence Traditions in Łódz, and member of the first mandate of the Council, later – since 2012 – as member of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of World War II in Gdansk. He is a member of the Council of Museum Gross-Rosen in Rogoznica.
Cywinski was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit in 2006. On April 15, 2008, Lech Kaczynski, the President of Poland, awarded Cywinski the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. Also in that year, he was nominated to the TOTUS Award in the category of “achievements in the field of Christian culture”. On 20 January 2010, he received the Officer’s Cross of the Polonia Restituta.
In June 2012, he was awarded Belgian Order of the Crown In November 2012, Prince Albert II of Monaco awarded Piotr Cywinski the knight class of the Order of Saint-Charles. In 2014, he received Officer’s Cross of the Order of the Phoenix (Greece) and in 2015 the Knight’s Cross Order of Academic Palms (France).
In 2013, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs awarded him Bene Merito honorary badge for his activities in strengthening the position of Poland in the international arena.
In 2014 he received the Golden Order for Achievements in the Penitentiary Work from the Polish Minister of Justice (and also from the Polish Ombudsman’s Award for Human Rights’ Protection). In 2015, he received Silver Gloria Artis Award from the Minister of Culture and in 2019 Knight medal insignia of French Legion of Honour.
The Auschwitz Memorial, a museum on the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oświęcim, Poland, which he directs, preserves the remains of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, where children were imprisoned and murdered. The site includes the main concentration camp at Auschwitz I and the remains of the concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.