MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

The opening of the Museum

The ceremonial opening of the Museum took place on June 14, 1947, attended by tens of thousands of people—mostly former prisoners, their relatives, and delegations from many Polish and Jewish community and political organizations. The ceremony began with religious services—Catholic in the courtyard of block 11, Jewish in block 4, and Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran inside block 11. After the service, there were addresses by Polish Premier Józef Cyrankiewicz and parliamentary delegate Józef Sak, representing the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. Then the participants placed wreaths at the Death Wall in the courtyard of Block 11, and Cyrankiewicz declared the Museum open.

Only on July 2 did the Sejm (the Polish parliament) pass the law calling the Museum into existence. The legislation stated that “the grounds of the former Nazi concentration camp in Oświęcim, together with all the buildings and equipment found there, shall be preserved for all time as a Monument to the Martyrdom of the Polish People and other Peoples. . . . The Oświęcim-Brzezinka State Museum has the task of collecting and gathering together evidence and materials associated with the Nazi crimes, making them accessible to the public, and studying them in a scientific way.” This somewhat atypical situation, in which the institution opened before the legal act governing its operations was passed, resulted from the desire to hold the opening ceremonies on June 14, the seventh anniversary of the arrival of the first transport of Polish political prisoners, while the earliest possible session of parliament was planned for early July. Not wanting to postpone the opening, the authorities decided that the Museum could begin operating before the passage of the required legislation.