AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM IN OSWIECIM

Bulletin No. 3, January-September, 1997

Stefan Swiszczowski swiszcz@usk.pk.edu.pl

FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MUSEUM

The commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the establishment of the Museum has surely been the central event in the life of our institution so far this year. More than 500 people, including former prisoners who were among the founders and first employees of the Museum, took part in the Anniversary ceremonies on July 2, 1997. They were joined by representatives of institutions associated or affiliated with the Museum, and by national, provincial and local government officials. The 71 participants in a two-day symposium that preceded the ceremonies included eminent specialists in the history of the camp and related fields, such as Professors Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Waclaw Dlugoborski, Józef Garliński, Israel Gutman and Józef Szajna. The ceremonies were financed by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp Victims' Memorial Foundation.

The participants exchanged their reflections on the history and future of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. They directed their attention to the challenges that changing cultural and technological realities present to the preservation of the memory of and truth about Auschwitz.

However, attention was also paid in this place and on this spectacular occasion to the considerable accomplishments of the Museum and the crucial moments in its history. There have been 25 million visitors over the last half-century, with almost one-third coming from abroad. More than half a million pilgrims come here each year. The State Museum has published 402 titles in a total of seven million copies. The Museum collections include more than 90,000 objects left behind by the victims of the camp, and more than 6,000 works of art, some of which were executed in the camp and others of which were created afterwards as reminiscences of Auschwitz. Thousands of documents attesting to the war crimes and everyday reality at the camp are kept in the archives, on paper and in computer data bases. Preservation programs cover 155 buildings on the 191 hectares (475 acres) of the Museum grounds.

December 31, 1945-- plan for the establishment of an Auschwitz Museum submitted to the Polish National Council by former prisoner Alfred Fiderkiewicz

June 14, 1947--permanent exhibition of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum opened on the seventh anniversary of the first transport of prisoners to the camp

July 2, 1947--act establishing the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum passed by the Polish parliament (Sejm)

1950--permanent exhibition enlarged and Museum by-laws issued

1955-new permanent exhibition opened in blocks 4, 5, 6, 11, and the crematorium

1956--Auschwitz State Museum publishing house founded

1960--first national exhibitions opened

1967--International Camp Victims' Monument unveiled

1968--"Jewish Struggle and Martyrdom" permanent exhibition opened

1971--mass celebrated at the Death Wall to mark the beatification of Maksymilian Kolbe

1979--Museum entered in UNESCO World Heritage List; Pope John Paul II visits, celebrates mass at Birkenau

1988--first March of the Living by Jewish youth from around the world

1990--first meeting of the Museum International Council

1995--ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp (January 27, 1945)

1996--Oswiecim Strategic Program approved by the Polish government

EVENTS

On March 3, the Fritz Bauer Institute and the Goethe Institute from Germany presented 50 German feature and documentary films on World War II to the Museum. An exhibition of works by the Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, from Germany, was opened on the same day. Salomon died in Auschwitz in 1943. The exhibition was donated to the Museum.

On March 5, Polish and Jewish officials signed a declaration of principles on the realization of the Oswiecim Program. On Poland’s behalf representatives of the Government, President’s Office and Oswiecim authorities took part in the talks.

The Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands presented the Museum with a Mercedes bus outfitted to transport preservation tools and materials on April 11. The bus will be used on the Auschwitz and Birkenau grounds.

2,500 young Jewish people from Israel, the USA, Canada, Latin America and Western Europe took part in the sixth March of the Living on May 4. Descendants of Holocaust survivors carried the flag of Israel from Oswiecim to Birkenau, where they said kaddish at the ruins of a crematorium. The March had been preceded by a year-long educational program designed to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in the younger generation.

On May 9, Dr. Werner Nickolai of the Catholic Vocational Institute in Freiburg, who is also a member of the Learn for the Future Association board of directors, presented the Museum with a check for 25,000 marks. Obtained from the European Union and individual donors, the sum is intended for the preservation of the children's barrack in Birkenau. A total of 50,000 marks has now been raised by the Association for this purpose.

On June 13 and 14, the Auschwitz Preservation Society organized ceremonies in Tarnów and Oswiecim to mark the 57th anniversary of the arrival of the firs transport of Polish prisoners to Auschwitz Concentration Camp and the 55th anniversary of the mutiny and mass escape of the penal company in Birkenau. A cross commemorating the mutiny was unveiled and a seminar on escapees from Auschwitz held in Bojszowy, where escapee August Kowalczyk went into hiding.

On July 7, a new Jelcz bus was donated to the Museum by the Ronald Lauder Foundation. It shuttles between the former Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps enabling thus the visitors coming to the Museum without their own means of transport to visit Birkenau.

A group of students from the Preservation School in Cologne stayed at the Museum in July. They preserved and restored selected post-concentration-camp landmarks under the direction of Prof. Friedemann Hellwig, working out specific methods appropriate for these objects. This was the fifth visit by young volunteer preservation specialists since 1993.

Delegations of Romas from all over Europe and Museum officials took part in a ceremony at the monument in the former Zigeunerlager on August 2, to mark the 53rd anniversary of the liquidation by the SS of the Birkenau Roma camp. A restored memorial plaque was unveiled and messages from the Polish President and the Marshall of the Sejm were read out. Last year, August 2 was proclaimed the Day of Remembrance of the Extermination of the Romas.

The International Auschwitz Committee held its General Assembly in Oswiecim on August 27 and 28. Delegates from twelve countries discussed educational work in their homelands and heard a report from the Director of the Museum on its work in 1996 and the first half of 1997. The most important issue was the fact that compensation has still not been paid to victims of the Nazi regime in Central and Eastern Europe. The Committee called on the German government to take steps towards passing a law that would apportion funds for this purpose from the state and from German industry, the principal beneficiary of the forced labor of concentration camp inmates. Kurt Hacker of Austria was elected the new president of the Committee.

VISITORS

Almost 387,000 people visited the Museum from January to September, 1997. 203,000 of them came from outside Poland. The majority of the Poles, more than 70%, were young people. Among visitors from abroad, the proportions were reversed, with only 30% of the visitors being young people. The visitors were served by 135 guides.

Political figures who visited the Museum included Danish Prime Minister P.N. Rasmussen, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, delegations of members of the United States Congress and the Italian Senate, and World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

Research and technical support from the newly-formed Department of Media Contacts was available to the 48 film and television crews and numerous radio and print journalists who came to the Museum.

EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITY

Further seminars were held for primary school humanities teachers from the provinces of southern Poland. The seminars are part of the program to prepare Polish young people for visits to the Museum (approximately 150,000 seventh- and eighth-graders come here each year). The seminars include specialist tours of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camp grounds, lectures, films, and methodological workshops featuring both model lessons in preparation for visits and opportunities for teaching during visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. The State Museum Educational Division also organized similar sessions for priests and lay catechism teachers from the Oswiecim region. The Auschwitz Preservation Society helped the Educational Division to conduct sessions for teachers and senior Scouting leaders.

Students from Oswiecim secondary schools took part in a two-day symposium of films and museum lessons. Lectures on Auschwitz, with films, were held in primary schools in Oswiecim and Myslowice. There were also lectures for groups of teachers and students from England, study groups from Germany, and history teachers from Cracow. There was a week-long seminar for protestant ministers from Germany. Leaders of youth groups visiting the Museum from Israel held their annual meetings with Museum employees and guides.

Members of the Educational Division staff held consultations and offered aid to the finalists in the Polish Everyday Life 1945-1956 historical competition organized by the Batory Foundation and the KARTA Center. A video film on the life of former Auschwitz prisoners won an award in the competition.

PUBLICATIONS

The State Museum in Oswiecim published the German version of the historical study Auschwitz: Nazi Death Camp, the Polish version of Ferdinando Camon's Conversation with Primo Levi (published simultaneously in Italy, Germany, Spain and the United States), the French version of Adam Bujak's album Voices from the Abyss, the sixth and seventh issues of the PRO MEMORIA information bulletin (the latter on the 50th anniversary of the Museum), and the double issue (numbers 5 and 6) of the English version of PRO MEMORIA. Rotmistrz Pilecki by Adam Cyra and Wieslaw Wysocki was co-published with Volumen. On the occasion of the anniversary the exhibition of publications issued by the Museum’s Publishing House, established in 1956, was staged.

EXHIBITIONS

The Exhibits Section organized or participated in:

--a February exhibition in Myslowice, where a primary school was named after Bernard Swierczyna, prisoner number 1393; the exhibition (with the exception of items from the Museum Collection) was then donated to the school;

--the Roma Family Camp in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Bucharest, Jassy and Cluj, Romania, in February and March;

--copies of water-colors by the Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, murdered in Auschwitz, were shown in the Current Exhibitions Room at the Museum; her cycle of works titled Life or Theatre? is her autobiography from the Holocaust period;

--More than 7,500 people visited the exhibit titled That the Memory May Survive - Fifty Years of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in the same room, in Block 12, in July and August;

--Saved from Oblivion - The Realities of Auschwitz in Artistic Work by Prisoners, in which most of the works come from the Museum Collections, opened on September 15 in the Muzeum Slaskie (Silesian Museum) in Katowice.

Work is underway on supplementing the "Polish" exhibition in Block 15, as well as consultations on the exhibition in the central Sauna building at Birkenau.

RESEARCH

A team of eight researchers was named to prepare a Memorial Book of Poles Deported to Auschwitz Concentration Camp from Warsaw, 1940-1944.

Publications produced by the Research Division include articles about the Museum and its first staff members that appeared in Issue number 7 of PRO MEMORIA on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary, an extensive review of the book Auschwitz - 1270 to the Present, and studies of the Birkenau Sauna and the fate of women in the camp.

Research Division staff members took part in conferences and seminars including a symposium in Verona dedicated to the writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, a conference on Racism and Racial Discrimination in Stockholm, and a conference at the International Youth Meeting House in Oswiecim titled Medicine after Auschwitz: Lessons and Consequences. Lectures and talks were held for school teachers, catechism teachers and Scouting leaders who visited the Museum, and for young people on study visits to the International Youth Meeting House.

The Research Division announced a competition for masters' theses connected with the history of Auschwitz. The suggested theme is "Deportation of the residents of (...) to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and the Subsequent Fate of the Deportees." Entries may be submitted until June 30, 1999.

THE ARCHIVES

Acquisitions for the archives from January through August, 1996, include:

--100 original documents, including an extensive collection of the correspondence of Bernard Swierczyna, plus his literary work;

--39 transcriptions and 15 recordings of accounts by former Auschwitz prisoners, 16 memoirs of camp and wartime experiences, and 106 questionnaires with information about prisoners;

--50 films by German and Polish directors on World War II, the Holocaust, and its consequences today, donated by the Goethe Institute and the Fritz Bauer Institute;

--the diary and letters of former Auschwitz commandant Arthur Liebehenschel, donated by his daughter;

--19 microfilms of material held in Moscow, containing documents of the Waffen SS and Police Central Construction Office in Auschwitz. Work also continued on a list of the names of Soviet prisoners of war held at Auschwitz. Almost 7,000 survey forms were sent to former prisoners and their families. Fifteen lectures were given for teachers and study groups from Poland, Germany and Austria. The documents and materials in the Archives were also used by undergraduate and doctoral students writing theses and dissertations connected with Auschwitz, university faculty, journalists and film crews from Poland and abroad. Archives staff participated in a seminar in Berlin for organizers and guides of German study groups visiting the Museum, and took part in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Museum in Terezin (Theresienstadt), Czech Republic.

COLLECTIONS

73 items, mostly of an artistic nature, were added to the Museum's holdings. The more interesting ones include a relief and three medals by the sculptor Bronislaw Chromy (including a medal on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Museum), two portraits by former Auschwitz prisoner Halina Olomucka, a signet ring bearing the initials and serial number of former prisoner Czeslaw Ludwiczak as made from a silver spoon in the DAW machine shop by an unknown prisoner, 32 photographs taken by Wieslaw Zieliński in the 1990s illustrating the grounds and buildings of the former Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, coins from the Lódz ghetto, and German and Polish coins recovered during landscaping work at the site of the Sauna in Birkenau.

The more than 300 items loaned to Polish and foreign exhibitions included works by Bronislaw Chromy and Józef Szajna, a display of posters connected with the Anniversaries of liberation and the founding of the Museum, the art work made in the camp by prisoners and included in the Save from Oblivion exhibition at the Muzeum Slaskie in Katowice, and the works shown in the exhibitions titled Geschichte der Gedenkenstätte at the Sachsenhausen Museum and Arte e Violenza at the University of Innsbruck. More than 200 items were made available to be photographed or filmed.

Museum research work included the composition of a text on the collections, for inclusion in the Informator Nauki Polskiej (Guide to Polish Learning). Many searches and consultations were carried out for people and institutions interested in the collections of the Museum. Eight specialist groups from Poland and abroad visited the exhibition of art works displayed in the collections department, and heard a lecture on "Art in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp."

THE LIBRARY

213 books, nearly half donated by individuals and institutions, were added to the library collection, as were six maps of Oswiecim and the surrounding area. The library was used by 1,097 readers, as well as study groups from Germany and England, and teachers taking part in seminars organized by the Museum. Library searches were made to find which publications contained photographs from the Archives and to locate all materials on labor camps. Press cuttings and regular reviews of the foreign, and above all German, press are made. The library subscribes to 60 periodicals. An exhibition on the history and accomplishments of the Library was prepared in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of the Museum.

CONTACT WITH FORMER PRISONERS

The Department for Contact with Former Prisoners continued its survey work. Accounts were transcribed and questionnaires filled out on the subject of prisoners' experiences in camp and with people who offered them aid. The Department supervised the ongoing preparation of name and subject indexes to the accounts and testimony of former prisoners. The work of the Department led to the acquisition of a wide range of documents, including letters, photographs and accounts, which were turned over to the Archives. The Department cooperated with the Auschwitz Preservation Society in organizing commemorations of the first transport of prisoners to the camp and the mutiny of the penal company.

COMPUTERIZATION

Computers, printers and scanners were purchased for the Collections, Education, Exhibition, Archives and Contacts Departments. A local network was set up that, in the future, will cover the entire Museum. Negotiations are continuing on connecting the Museum to the Internet and creating a World Wide Web page.

As a result of a conference on "Recording the Names," organized by the Yad Vashem Institute in late May and early June, the Museum joined the effort to standardize the way in which information on victims of the Holocaust is compiled by Memorials and research centers around the world.

Members of the computer section staff are creating data bases of archival materials previously unavailable in electronic form, including transport lists of Dutch Jews, the collection of punishment reports (scanning) and the books of surgical procedures.

PRESERVATION AND CONSTRUCTION WORK

Funds appropriated by the Dutch government were used to install an up-to-date fire prevention system in all the Museum buildings and central heating equipment in Block 21 (where the Dutch national exhibit is housed), as well as to purchase a passenger-freight bus for the Preservation Department. The replacement of the running water and fire hydrant systems, also financed by the Netherlands, is underway. Wide-ranging work is in progress at the Sauna in Birkenau, which will contain an exhibit that will be the final point on tours of Birkenau. Preservation work on Blocks 10, 11, and 26 is being completed. This work is being financed by German Lands represented by Lower Saxony. Belgian government funds were used to purchase a special truck with a lift unit for elevation work. The renovation of one of the wooden barracks at Birkenau, the old camp parcels office and the roof of Block 5 are also underway.

The renovation of the Auschwitz kitchen has begun. Scheduled for completion this year, the effort is financed by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp Victims' Memorial Foundation.

Remodelling intended to improve the working conditions and efficiency of the Preservation and Exhibition Departments in Block 12 has been completed. Plans call for the cinema in that block to be renovated and modernized in the immediate future.

It has been decided to set up a Preservation Department storage area in Block 2 for the camp artifacts that are continually being discovered during preservation work on the grounds of the former Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.

A group of students from the wood, paper, interior painting, sculpture and technical departments of the Cologne Preservation School came to the Collections Division workshops in July as part of a cooperative effort that dates back six years. Joined this year for the first time by students from the Warsaw Fine Arts Academy, the preserved 57 artistic and historical objects from the Museum collections, including suitcases, drawings, Zyklon B labels, sculptures, wall paintings and paintings.

Editing: Grzegorz Klimek
Państwowe Muzeum Oswiecim-Brzezinka

English translation by William Brand