MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

The effort to create the Museum

Before the end of 1945, officials at the highest levels of the Polish government had already taken steps to transform the former camp into a museum. On May 1, the Provisional Government gave the Ministry of Culture and Art (MKiS) authority over “parts of the concentration camp in Oświęcim, which were connected with the direct extermination of millions of people.” The ministry received instructions to secure the site and prepare a concept for the future museum. It was former prisoners who carried on the effort.

A group of former prisoners who belonged to the National People’s Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa – KRN) tabled a legislative initiative at a session of the Council on December 31. They were led by Alfred Fiderkiewicz. Their initiative called for the creation in Oświęcim and Brzezinka of a site to commemorate Polish and international martyrdom.

The KRN culture and art commission unanimously approved the initiative on February 1, 1946. On February 26, the Presidium of the Council of Ministers once again instructed the MKiS to secure and protect the Auschwitz site. As a result, a Protection Board was set up in March, with members nominated at a meeting of the Executive Board of the Union of Former Political Prisoners. The MKiS named former Auschwitz prisoner Tadeusz Wąsowicz (a future director of the Museum) head of the Protection Board. In mid-April, together with a team of former prisoners, he began work aimed at setting up the Museum.

This team, its numbers constantly growing, took control of the site and took possession of the buildings and moveable property there from the OUL. Many of the structures, including the blocks in the main camp, and the brick blocks, guard towers, main gate, and some of the wooden barracks at Birkenau, were still in relatively good condition. Many items of various kinds that had belonged to the murdered Jews were found in the Lagererweiterung buildings. In June 1946, the OUL turned most of these items over as Museum exhibits.

Wąsowicz’s team also collected and secured all material evidence of crime and all objects of historical value. It then sent relatively large numbers of documents to the District Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes (later, “Nazi Crimes”) in Cracow. Finally, the team prepared an exhibition and routes for visitors, and began showing guests around the site.