Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum – top things to know

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was created in April 1946 by Tadeusz Wąsowicz, and other former Auschwitz prisoners under Poland’s Ministry of Culture and Art direction on the site of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp in Oświęcim. Although it was only formally founded a year later on the 2nd of July 1947 by the act of Polish parliament. The site was preserved by the Polish government as a research center and as a memorial for 1.1 million people imprisoned and executed there. From 1955 until 1990, the museum was directed by one of the founders and former prisoners, Kazimierz Smoleń. The site of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum includes the main concentration camp of Auschwitz I and what is left of the concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz II – Birkenau.

The first exhibition was opened in 1947, at the time Stalinist Poland, on the seventh anniversary of the first deportation of Polish prisoners to Auschwitz with the assistance of former prisoners of the camp. Since the exhibition was influenced by the Cold War, next to the photos of Jewish ghettos, photographs of slums in the United States were also presented. The next exhibition was planned in 1955, and in 1959, nations that had victims in Auschwitz were granted rights to present their exhibitions. Although, victims like homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sinti and Roma, and Yeniche people did not receive these rights. In addition, the state of Israel was not granted the rights for exhibition, since the Jews who were killed in Auschwitz were not the citizens of Israel. The Jewish exhibition was opened and designed by Andrzej Szczypiorski in April of 1968. To maintain and protect the historical condition of the camps, prevention zones were established, first around the museum in Birkenau in 1962, and second, in 1977 around the museum in Auschwitz. Auschwitz – Birkenau became a World Heritage Site in 1979.

Auschwitz Birkenau Museum had allowed filming on-site for four films: Pasażerka (1963) by Polish director Andrzej Munk, Landscape After the Battle (1970) by Polish director Andrzej Wajda, and a television miniseries, War and Remembrance (1988), and Denial (2016). In addition, the permission for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) was also granted, although Spielberg decided to build a replica camp entrance just outside the infamous archway.
There were a few religious disputes, first one in 1979 when Polish Pope John Paul II celebrated mass on grounds of Auschwitz, where he announced that Edith Stein would be beatified. This resulted in setting up a cross near Bunker 2 where she had been gassed, not long after a Star of David also appeared on the site, leading to the proliferation of religious symbols, which were eventually removed. Second, in 1984 with the opening of Carmelite nuns convent near Auschwitz, resulting in a dispute with some Jewish groups who demanded the removal of the convent to which the Catholic Church agreed in 1987. Carmelite nuns also erected a cross near their site from the mass in 1979 which resulted in more disputes with Jewish groups.

The name of the camp and expressions used concerning Auschwitz also changed. Polish Foreign Ministry objected to the use of the expression ‘’Polish death camp’’ since the phrase could be interpreted that Poland and not Germany had perpetrated Holocaust. Even the Nations World Heritage Committee changed its name for the site from „Auschwitz Concentration Camp” to „Auschwitz Birkenau”, with the subtitle „German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940–1945)”.

Our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

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