MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

Visitor numbers

More than 2 million people visited the Museum in its first 10 years. There were 170 thousand in 1947, and between 200 and 225 thousand in the years 1948-1951.The figure fell to 127 thousand in 1953. Then it rose again in the following two years, to 166 thousand and then 414 thousand.

Since the entire exhibition had not yet been completed at the time of opening, the office of the director of the Museum formed two commissions, the Historical Commission and the Artistic Commission, in July 1947. 

The first of these commissions was tasked with preparing the design for the entire exhibition at the Auschwitz I site, and the Artistic Commission was charged with developing the visual presentation. The Commissions were still functioning in 1949, but gradually lapsed into inactivity. This was a result of the fact that access to the camp records was limited; the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland controlled the documents. From year to year, the work of the Main Commission itself was curbed. As a result, there was no work done on the history of Auschwitz, or on completing the exhibition, until the mid-1950s.

Furthermore, the attitude towards the Museum at the highest levels of government was changing. In the first half of the 1950s, the Museum received only enough funding to maintain the blocks containing the exhibition, but there was no money for the preservation of other buildings. As a result, the majority of the blocks and the Birkenau main gate were in danger of collapse, and the roof of the so-called sauna building fell moments after a group of visitors went outside.

The kitchen building at the main camp was also in danger of collapse. Many blocks and crematorium I fell into ruin as a result of a lack of basic maintenance. At the same time, the government liquidated the carpentry-machinist workshops, which repaired museum objects.

At the turn of the 1940s and 1950s, there was a proposal to limit the Museum to a single row of blocks, and adapt the other buildings as housing. With such an attitude on the part of the government, it is therefore hardly surprising that projects at the Museum ran into obstacles, and that completion was continually postponed.

These examples suggest that the government was more interested in limiting the activities of the Museum, or even liquidating the Museum, than in fostering its development. The rebuilding of the chemical plant in Oświęcim was then beginning, and this caused an influx of new workers who needed somewhere to live. This is presumably the reason for the proposal to limit the Museum to a single row of blocks while using the rest as housing. It might further be assumed that the decision-makers of the day found it difficult to accept that many of the Museum buildings were standing there “unproductively.”

Because of problems with premises and financing, there were difficulties founding and developing the archives and library, carrying out research and publishing work, or preparing exhibitions. Only in 1955, thanks to the determination of Museum staff, was the exhibition in the main camp completed, thus forming the exhibition that, with minor changes, exists to this day (2008).