Auschwitz Museum: Events, Issues, and Communication
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I am enclosing an Auschwitz Bulletin on behalf of the Auschwitz Museum andthe Computer Center of the Technological University of Cracow (TUP). At themoment The A. Museum does not have access to e-mail and is using my address(for the Bulletin only!) and it has already started drawing up a list ofpossible e-mail recipients of the Bulletin. Therefore I would be gratefulfor the addresses of any institutions or persons you know which are likelyto be interested in receiving it. It would also be appreciated if you couldpass this Bulletin to anybody who may be interested.
Stefan Swiszczowski, email@example.com
AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU MUSEUM AND REFLECTION CENTREOSWIECIM, POLAND
BULLETIN NO. 1
AUGUST 1, 1996
The history of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the role played by this place as a symbol of the martyrdom of Jews, Poles, Romapeople and other nationalities has long stirred widespread publicinterest, and not only in the countries from which the victimscame. The grounds of the State Museum and Reflection Centre, thelocation of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, is the largest andbest-preserved Nazi concentration camp site. The camp, includingthe ruins of the crematoria and the gas chambers, has tremendoussignificance for understanding the mechanisms of genocide. Thisbest-known concentration and death camp in occupied Europe also hasa clear moral dimension. It is a place for reflection,contemplation and prayer, and for honoring the memory of thevictims whose ashes are scattered across the fields of Brzezinka –Birkenau — the largest cemetery in the world.
Most of these ashes are the ashes of Jews. There are also,however, Poles, Roma people (the “Gypsies”), Soviet prisoners ofwar — adherents of various religions that differ, among otherthings, in the forms used to remember their dead. This imposes oneveryone an obligation of good will and understanding the beliefsof others. Such good will and understanding have been at timeslacking in the resolution of misunderstandings that have arisenagainst this background. All of those to whom the memory of thevictims of Auschwitz is dear agree on the need to maintain thedignity of this place far from the “bustle of the world,” so thatvisitors can reflect upon the fate of the people who suffered anddied here. This in turn requires appropriate spatial and legalsolutions which can be difficult to reconcile with the interests ofthe city of Oswiecim and its inhabitants.
The mass media in Poland and abroad have devoted considerableattention to these problems, and to others associated with thebroadly-conceived issue of Auschwitz, such as the now-historicalcontroversies over the Carmelite convent or the number of victimsat the camp. Information on the history of the Auschwitzconcentration camp and the current problems of the Museum has notalways been accurate or sufficiently comprehensive, nor havejournalists always turned to the most competent authorities. Therehave been instances of conscious distortion or even downrightmendacity. Apart from these, the Museum has also frequently failedto supply current information.
In order to avoid such difficulties, the International Councilof the Museum has proposed the publication of a special bulletinfor the Polish and international media, and for official andscholarly institutions. The Bulletin will appear at leastquarterly, or more often as dictated by important events in oraround the Museum. Published in Polish and English, it will bedistributed simultaneously to interested persons and institutionsby electronic mail and will be available on the Internet.
There were more than 217,000 visitors to the Museum in thefirst half of 1996, including 120,000 from Poland and 97,000 fromabroad. Most of the visitors were young people: 124,000, of whomapproximately 95,000 came from Poland and 30,000 from abroad. 142guides conducted tours. Public figures who visited the Museumincluded:
– Hillary Clinton, First Lady of the United States
– Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, President of the Republic of Italy
– Franz Vranitzky, Chancellor of Austria
– Soo Sung Lee, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea
– General Ismoil Karadayi, Chief of the Turkish General Staff.
The Museum also hosted and provided information and technicalassistance to 29 film and television crews from Poland, Germany,Israel, the United States, Sweden and Italy.
A ceremony organized by the General Board of the Society forthe Preservation of Oswiecim marked the fifty-first anniversary ofthe liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27.Diplomas and medals were presented to several dozen residents ofAuschwitz and surrounding localities in recognition of their aid tocamp prisoners during the war.
This year’s “March of the Living” took place on April 16.Approximately 5,000 Jewish young people from all over the worldwalked in silence from Auschwitz to Birkenau, where kaddish, theprayer for the dead, was said at the Monument to Camp Victims. Forthe first time, students from the Hebrew-language class at theWyspianski Eighth Secondary School in Cracow and from the CracowDominican Chaplaincy took part. Participants in the March wereshown around the camp grounds by Museum guides from April 13-18.
A plaque commemorating Polish scouts imprisoned at theAuschwitz camp was unveiled on the wall of block 15 on June 14, thefifty-sixth anniversary of the transport to the concentration campof the first group of Polish prisoners. The ceremony, organized bythe Society for the Preservation of Oswiecim, began with thecelebration of mass next to the “Death Block.” Wreaths and flowerswere also laid.
Teresa Swiebocka and Teresa Zbrzeska have completed a newdesign for the permanent exhibition at the Sauna building on thegrounds of the former Birkenau camp as part of the overall projectfor creating new permanent exhibitions and descriptive material.
The exhibition is intended to illustrate the special role ofthe Sauna, the functions of particular rooms, and the equipmentthat has been preserved. This will be achieved, among other means,through the use of photographs taken by SS officers while the campwas in operation.
The second important goal of the exhibition is to show who wasdeported to the camp, where they came from, and what they lookedlike. Visitors will learn through specific images that the camp’svictims were people like everyone, like us. The authors of theexhibition will achieve this by displaying photographs, found afterliberation, that had been brought to the camp by prisonerstransported here. This part of the exhibition will aim more at anemotional effect than at the conveying of information as in atypical historical presentation.
Several traveling exhibitions have been presented abroad andon the grounds of the Oswiecim State Museum as part of the programof temporary exhibitions that has been underway for years. Theyinclude:
– “Representations of Auschwitz — Fifty Years in Photographs,Painting and Graphics” (Oldenburg, February 2 1995 – February 18,1996), an exhibition prepared as part of the Tempus program
– “Heaven and Hell” (Buchenwald, April 11 – May 31 1996), anexhibition of works by J. Szajna.
Temporary Exhibitions presented at the Oswiecim Museum
– “Auschwitz” (January – April 15 1996), an exhibition of artisticphotography by Waldemar Jama
– “Cultural and Educational Activity by Polish Prisoners of War inGerman Captivity from 1939-1945” (April 25 – June 14 1996), anexhibition prepared by the Central Museum of Prisoners of War inÿambinowice-Opole according to a scenario by Stanislawa Borzemska
– Paintings and drawings from the “Auschwitz Alphabet” cycles andfragments of “Waltzes” by Pawel Warchol (June 29 – August 15 1996).
The long-awaited study Auschwitz 1940-1945. Wezlowezagadnienia z dziejow obozu (Auschwitz 1940-1945: Crucial Issuesfrom the History of the Camp) has been published. The editors areWaclaw Dlugoborski and Franciszek Piper and contributors includeDanuta Czech, Tadeusz Iwaszko, Stanislaw Klodzinski, Helena Kubica,Aleksander Lasik, Franciszek Piper, Irena Strzelecka, AndrzejStrzelecki and Henryk Swiebocki. The work, totaling 1,250 pages,comprises five volumes:
I – The Genesis and Organization of theCamp;
II – Prisoners, their Life and Work;
III – Annihilation;
IV – The Resistance Movement;
V – Epilogue.
On its own or in cooperation with other publishers, the Museumhas brought out more than a dozen other titles in the first half of1996. They include:
– Zeszyty Oswiecimskie (Auschwitz Publications), no. 21
– Hefte von Auschwitz nr 19
– Auschwitz – Voices from the Abyss (an album in English andItalian versions)
– Karski. Opowiesc o emisariuszu (Karski: Tale of an Emissary) byE. Thomas Wood and Stanislaw Jankowski.
The following memoirs by Auschwitz survivors were also published:
– Kazimierz Albin, List gonczy (Wanted List)
– Krystyna Zywulska, Przezylam Oswiecim (I Survived Auschwitz)
– Primo Levi, Czy to jest czlowiek? (Is This Man?)
– Halina Birenbaum, Nadzieja umiera ostatnia (Hope Dies Last)
– Miriam Akavia, Jesien mlodosci (The Autumn of Youth).
Museum guidebooks and video cassettes with the films Auschwitz andAuschwitz: History, the Present and the Future have been publishedin several languages. Two issues of the Pro Memoria informationbulletin have appeared in Polish (no. 5) and English (no. 3-4).
Because of financial constraints, the Museum has been unableto cover the costs of so many publications. The Foundation inMemory of the Victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp has beenextremely generous and has sponsored the printing of a large partof this year’s titles.
Two two-day seminars with talks on the fates of Poles and Jewsin the Auschwitz concentration camp and participatorymethodological workshops were held for 57 elementary schoolteachers of history and Polish language. Each participant receiveda packet with a model lesson to prepare children for a visit toAuschwitz.
Approximately 400 secondary school students from the city ofOswiecim took part in showings of documentary films and film essayson themes related to the concentration camp, with introductorylectures.
As every year, courses for guides were held with lectures onCrematorium I, the SS staff in the concentration camp, and theKielce pogrom.
Candidates for posts as German-language guides wereinterviewed and selected. Short guides to the Museum in Polish andEnglish were prepared for distribution to visitors.
In January 1996, the Military Archives Commission conveyedphotocopies of files on Auschwitz prisoners from the Center for thePreservation of Historical-Documentary Collections in Moscow to theMuseum. More than 1,800 written questionnaires were sent to formerprisoners and their families, on the subject of their own or theirrelatives’ fates in the camp. Participants in study groups fromPoland, Austria and Germany, film crews, students and scholarlyresearchers made use of documents preserved from the camp.
Work on the collections has gone on regardless ofinconveniences caused by renovation work: 79 works by Jozef Szajnahave been accepted on deposit from the Studio Art Centre in Warsaw,and engravings on Jewish themes by Jonasz Stern have beenpurchased. 205 titles have been added to the library. 126 volumesdonated by institutions and private individuals, and all the newbooks have been catalogued. The new acquisitions concern theHolocaust and the history of Auschwitz and other concentrationcamps. A file of press cuttings is being kept. The library had 666visitors, and its resources were also used by groups of youngpeople from Germany. Orientation sessions on the library’sactivities were held for schoolteachers. There is continuingcooperation in loans with the Jagiellonian Library.
Contact with Former Prisoners
The activities of the Section for Former Prisoners, created in1995, have included a survey of Auschwitz survivors. This waspreceded by a mailing of appeals and questionnaires to variousveterans’ organizations and associations of former prisoners inPoland and abroad. Accounts by former prisoners and people whoaided Auschwitz prisoners were recorded. Surveys were taken on thesubject of people who helped prisoners and on the prisoners’ staysin the camp. Work continued on the preparation of subject and nameindexes to the accounts and testimony of former prisoners.
A file of names of people deported to the Auschwitzconcentration camp was prepared on the basis of post-war sources(literature, press, data from veterans’ organizations and the nameindex).
The Section for Former Prisoners contributed several dozendocuments (camp letters, photographs and others) to the MuseumArchives.
Conservation and renovation was carried out on the doors tothe barracks in Brzezinka (Birkenau), conservation of the woodendoors and windows in blocks 19 and 25, and tree conservation andlandscaping work were done with funds from the Museum budget andwith financial support provided by the Foundation in Memory of theVictims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp.
The following work was undertaken with means provided by theGerman government and the German Federal Lands:
– the completion of the renovation of the Birkenau Blockfuhrerstubebarracks
– renovation of the roof and beams in block 11
– cleaning and securing of the remains of the barracks in sectionB II f (the prisoners’ hospital) in Birkenau- installation of a central heating system in buildings on theMuseum grounds and of air conditioning in the Archives andCollections building.
A decision was taken in January to extend the computerizationprogram of the Museum to further sections. In combination with theexisting Computer Section, the new, up-to-date computer networkwill make the Museum the best-equipped institution of its type inEurope. Financial support has come from the Foundation in Memory ofthe Victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp, and expertisefrom the Jagiellonian University Foundation for Computer Educationand the representative for the Computerization of Museums from thePolish Ministry of Culture. As a result of this work, a computernetwork serving 22 workstations was activated in May.
The April Demonstration
In connection with the demonstration organized on May 6 1996by the Katowice Provincial Board of the Polish NationalCommunity/Polish National Party, the Museum Administration issuedthe following statement:
Under an act of the Polish Sejm (parliament), the grounds ofthe former Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp have beendesignated as a site of the Martyrdom of Nations. Auschwitz istoday a symbol of human annihilation caused by racial prejudice,hatred and intolerance. It is a symbol of the Holocaust for Jews,of the martyrdom and combat of Poles, and of the extermination ofthe Roma people (the “Gypsies”). Auschwitz is a cemetery, whereeveryone can pay tribute to the murdered.
In view of the exceptional and sacred nature of this place, itis not to be exploited for any sort of demonstration with a goalother than that of remembering the victims.
The Museum Administration has always expressed the view thatgatherings or demonstrations cannot take place on the grounds ofthe former camp for any purpose apart from commemoration. For thisreason, we maintain the above opinion in regard to thedemonstration organized on April 6 1996 by the Katowice ProvincialBoard of the Polish National Community/Polish National Party.
The Museum Administration withheld approval of thisdemonstration in a letter to the Mayor of the City of Oswiecim, andstands by its decision.
Oswiecim, April 6, 1996
The “Supermarket” Issue
Over the last few months there have been many protests and agreat deal of controversy over the construction of a commercialfacility located in the Protective Zone of the Oswiecim-BrzezinkaState Museum, opposite the gate of the former camp. It was tooccupy an existing building there, remodeled, covering a total of45,000 square feet. On the grounds that it did not conflict withthe character of the Protective Zone, the City authorities granteda building permit. Many foreign groups, especially Jewish ones, butPolish groups as well, were of a different opinion (sixty percentof respondents in a Polish public opinion survey expressed theiropposition).
As a result of the protests, the provincial governor haltedconstruction and later withdrew the permit. Other plans for usingthis property and a change of investors are under consideration.
After an on-site inspection and examination of thedocumentation, the Presidium of the International Council of theMuseum expressed the opinion that commercial activity meeting theneeds of pilgrims and visitors is permissible with in theProtective Zone, if carried out in an appropriate manner. At thesame time, the Council proposed relocating the bar, parking lot andkiosks now sited on the grounds of the Museum to the site of theplanned commercial facility. The Council also drew attention to theneeds of the City of Oswiecim and suggested the formulation of ageneral municipal development program taking account of theinternational significance of the Oswiecim Museum.
The opinion of the Council was accepted by the Ministry ofCulture and Art, which supervises the Museum, and was alsoincorporated in a broad program prepared by the local authoritiesand the Polish government. This program includes the regulation ofthe Protective Zone, the rebuilding of local roads, thepreservation of landmarks, and the development of infrastructure inline with the character of the city and the needs of visitors.
A plan prepared by the Museum Administration for the creationof an International Educational Centre, primarily for teachertraining, has been included in this program. The Centre, incooperation with existing institutions in Oswiecim with similargoals, would provide large numbers of teachers and educators withknowledge about the former camp, its origins and the results of itsactivity. The Centre would extend education to the youth of aEurope on the road to integration, but still full of conflicts.
The Issue of the Crosses on the Grounds of Birkenau
In his speech in Kielce during the anniversary of the pogromthere (July 7), Elie Wiesel demanded the removal of crosses fromfields full of the ashes of victims from the crematorium pyres. Thecrosses and stars were placed there years ago by a group of youngpeople from Warsaw, who had been working at caring for that part ofthe camp for several years, as a way of honoring the memory of thevictims.
Wiesel considered this to be an insult to Jews and expressedthe opinion that there should be no religious symbols on thegrounds of the former camp. This in turn caused numerous protestsin Poland and intensified the discussion on the varied meanings andinterpretations of religious symbols, the varieties of sensitivity,ways of understanding tolerance and paths to reconciliation andcooperation for the good of future generations.
This matter was also taken up by the International Council ofthe Museum at its meeting on July 8-9. It turned out that this isa very complex problem that requires further reflection anddiscussion. The Council authorized its chairman, ProfessorWladyslaw Bartoszewski, to undertake initiatives aimed at findinga solution without injuring anyone’s feelings. A dossier on theissue of the cross will be prepared in the immediate future.