Auschwitz-Birkenau National Museum in Oświęcim
Więźniów Oświęcimia 20
Brama byłego obozu Auschwitz I, Photo: Paweł Sawicki / www.auschwitz.org.pl
The museum, founded on the site of the former concentration camp Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau, aims to preserve the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and carry out research and education projects.
Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp of the German Third Reich, claimed the most victims, and was the only concentration camp that functioned simultaneously as a centre for systematic extermination in gas chambers. It symbolises the monstrous reality of the system of camps and extermination centers created by the German Third Reich. Today it has the highest attendance of any former German Nazi camp and of any Polish museum. For several years annual attendance has exceeded one million; in 2009 it was 1,300,000.
Four hundred thousand prisoners were registered in the camp during its almost five years of operation with Jews and Poles in the majority as well as Roma, Red Army POWs, and others. This number does not, however, include the majority of the Jews, mostly children and the elderly, who were killed immediately in the gas chambers after arrival and selection by the SS, without ever being entered in the camp records. It is estimated today that there were at least 900,000 such victims, and that at least 1,100,000 people died in Auschwitz. The camp was liberated on January 27, 1945. Today the date is regarded as the most important day for commemorating Auschwitz victims and the entire camp system of the Third Reich. In 2005 the UN designated January 25 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War the Nazis initiated the mass arrests of Polish citizens across the country. Members of the nascent resistance movement were imprisoned, along with teachers, officials, artists, priests, politicians, and members of the intellectual elite. The Nazis soon found themselves unable to house the flow of detainees and set up the first concentration camp in occupied Poland at Oświęcim (which the Germans renamed Auschwitz) in the spring of 1940. Its location at a rail junction established this site as the main destination for transporting Jews from all over occupied Europe throughout the war.
The first Polish political prisoners were sent to the camp in June 1940. For almost two years the overwhelming majority of the prisoners were Poles. About 150,000 were placed in the camp. Half of them died. The transports arriving with increasing frequency also included Polish Jews, although their numbers were small at the time. The staggering death rate in the camp resulted from starvation, sickness, and exhaustive labour.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, construction of a vast camp began in the nearby village of Brzezinka, whose residents were expelled and their homes demolished. This became Auschwitz II-Birkenau where, in 1942, the SS started the systematic killing of European Jews. Jews made up about ninety percent of all the victims of Auschwitz. Aside from Jews, Roma were also victims of the fascist policy of ethnic extermination.
In October 1942 the third part of the Auschwitz complex was built - a camp in Monowice at the construction site for the large IG Farben synthetic rubber and oil plant. At the peak of its growth in the summer of 1944, the Auschwitz complex included about 40 sq. km directly adjacent to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau as well as more than 40 branch camps scattered within a radius of several hundred kilometers. The complex held about 135,000 people, a quarter of the overall total of 525,000 concentration camp prisoners.
Memorial and Museum
The Museum arose on the former grounds of the camp in 1947 through the initiative of some of its former prisoners. Its aim is to preserve the original remains of the camp, commemorate the victims, and carry out research and education. Auschwitz is not only a memorial. It is also an essential part of our civilization. The word "Auschwitz" has become an eloquent cultural symbol and a synonym for the nadir of the human value system. With the passing of the last eyewitnesses, the role of the authenticity and integral nature of the Memorial is growing. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is, alongside the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the best known and preeminent institution in the world that deals with the subject.
The Memorial covers an area of almost 500 acres, with more than 150 buildings and about 300 ruins, including those of the gas chambers and crematoria that the Germans blew up. The Memorial also consists of collections, archives, and the world's largest collection of art devoted to Auschwitz, numbering some six thousand works.
In 1995, the site of the Oswiecim-Brzezinka State Museum was officially entered in the Bielsk Voivodship Registry of Monuments. Through Poland's initiative it was entered as "Concentration Camp Auschwitz" on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1979 on the condition that it be the only camp on the list and that it symbolise other similar sites. In 2007, also on the initiative of Poland, the title of the inscription was changed to "Auschwitz-Birkenau. German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)". The first exhibition on the grounds of the former Auschwitz I camp opened as early as 1947. It was replaced in 1955 by an exhibition that, with modifications, endures to this day. An effort has been made to preserve the grounds of the Birkenau camp in something like their original condition. The International Monument to the Victims of the Camp is located there.
The International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust carries out the educational mission of the Museum. The Center develops educational programs on the basis of the history and experience of Auschwitz, in order to raise awareness and shape an attitude of responsibility in today's world. Preservationists furnished with one of the most up-to-date conservation studios in the world stand watch over the authenticity of the Memorial. A multi-year conservation plan was prepared in 2009. The chances for its implementation depend on the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which has the task of creating a Perpetual Fund to ensure the authenticity of the Memorial. After the passage of over sixty years, ensuring the continuity of conservation efforts is vital to preserving the most tragic legacy of the twentieth century for future generations.
The site of the former camp includes numerous brick and wooden buildings and barracks, and wooden watchtowers. The museum collection consists of personal items stolen from the prisoners upon their arrival at the camp, such as clothes and civilian and prison shoes; furnishings and equipment from the blocks, gas chambers and crematoria, as well as personal items, including 3000 pieces of luggage, of which half are marked with the names and the number of the transport by which their owners arrived at the camp, as well as a shocking collection of over 450 artificial limbs, along with masses of human hair and other remains. The collection also contains artistic works produced illegally by prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps, such as drawings, oil and water-colour paintings (including many portraits of fellow prisoners),as well as small sculptures and arts and crafts items, such as medallions or rings. The artworks also include pieces by former camp inmates, as well as various items by contemporary Polish and foreign artists which are thematically linked with the Holocaust. Among these are paintings, drawings, prints, applied arts, medallions, philately, photography, sculptural designs and miniatures of Holocaust monuments in Poland.
The entry gate to the camp is flanked with the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Sets You Free) sign, which was restored to the museum after it was stolen by a group of men in mid-December. The wrought-iron sign required restoration after it had been damaged during the theft. It is considered a striking symbol of the suffering endured by prisoners under the cruel and inhuman conditions of the Nazi death camp.Source: www.auschwitz.org.pl
Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu
ul. Więźniów Oświęcimia 20
Phone: (+48 33) 843 20 22, 843 20 77
Fax: (+48 33) 843 19 34
Więźniów Oświęcimia 20