32nd session of the International Auschwitz Council
New, huge investments at the Memorial Site related to visitors’ service and education, conservation works at the former camp premises, events related to the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, as well as the situation at the Memorial Sites in Płaszów, Sobibor and Treblinka, were some of the issues addressed at the 32nd session of the International Auschwitz Council (IAC), which took place in Oswiecim on 2 and 3 July chaired by Prof. Barbara Engelking. The Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Jarosław Sellin was also in attendance.
During the meeting, the Museum director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński summed up the most important activities in the Auschwitz Memorial, which had taken place since the last meeting of the Council.
He spoke among others of the plea by the Museum for the transfer of private documents and mementos related to SS staff members of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, which was made in the beginning of the year to the German and Austrian public. 'As a consequence of the publicity, we obtained a unique collection of nearly 2 thousand documents from Austria amassed by Holocaust survivor Władysław Rath, which was donated to the Memorial by family,' said Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński. He also spoke of the publishing online the list of the SS garrison in the Auschwitz camp - a project jointly implemented with the Institute of National Remembrance.
Topics addressed in the report included, the conservation of the brick barracks and reinforcement of the walls of the undressing rooms of gas chamber and crematorium III ruins of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, and the project of a new storeroom for the post-camp textiles on the verge of completion, which are financed by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; exhibition of original objects belonging to Auschwitz victims at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, as well as the presentation of the exhibition titled “Forbidden Art” at the US Military Academy in West point as well as new publications of the Memorial.
Piotr Cywiński also mentioned the record attendance at the Memorial Site, which in 2016 amounted to 2 million 53 thousand people, and which since the beginning of the 21st century is constantly increasing. He also emphasized the huge importance, given such a large number of visitors the introduction of an electronic system for reservation of Entry Passes had on the Museum’s work, as well as the importance the new Visitor Service Centre and headquarters of the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust will have on the Memorial.
He also spoke of the online presence of the Memorial: the website www.auschwitz.org, which is recording millions of website traffic; a virtual tour, which was used by over 160 thousand persons in 2016; online lessons, which due to the open format are available to all, and thanks to which the number of persons using such forms of education amount to tens of thousands, as well as the Museum’s activities on social networking portals.
The director also underlined the commencement of dialogue by experts on the functioning prospects of Memorials located on the grounds of former German Nazi concentration and extermination sites in terms of the fact that the “German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz Birkenau” is the only former camp on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The outcome of the meeting, which was held in Berlin is the adoption of a Memorandum, which acknowledges the unique role of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum as a representative place of commemoration for similar memorial sites, but also poses certain significant challenges to other sites of similar character.
During the IAC session, minister Jarosław Sellin presented a report on the situation of the memorial sites in Płaszów, Sobibor and Treblinka.
A new protection and commemoration project is being implemented at the grounds of the former German concentration camp in Płaszów. A preliminary programme is already being prepared for a permanent exhibition. Thanks to specialist research of the area we discovered architectural relics, including roads made of crushed gravestones, and several objects. A new markings for the open areas of the former camp are being prepared.
Arrangements are also underway regarding the status of the Memorial at the former German Nazi extermination camp in Treblinka, which is to become a museum co-organized by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the self-government of the Mazowiecki Province.
Minister Sellin also summed up the June 10 meeting of the Steering Committee of the international project for creating a new Memorial and Museum at the former extermination camp in Sobibor. Members of the committee include representatives of Holland, Israel, Slovakia and Poland. In June, the glade with mass graves was be secured, and the first stage of the museum construction is due to be completed by the end of the year.
Jarosław Sellin also spoke about past and planned events for this year's 75th anniversary commemoration of Operation Reinhard and the mass extermination of Polish Jews carried out by the German Third Reich.
One of the items on the agenda of the IAC meeting was information regarding the concept of a new museum dedicated to inhabitants in the neighbourhood of Oświecim, who provided aid to Auschwitz prisoners during the war. The museum is provisionally named “Museum of people who helped” and will be established in the building so-called Lagerhaus (warehouse) located near the Auschwitz Museum.
The meeting was also attended by Hannah Lessing representing the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for victims of National Socialism, which is preparing a project for a new Austrian national exhibition at the Auschwitz Memorial. Members of the IAC also discussed certain elements of stage design for the planned exhibition. Topics raised during the IAC session included, the situation at the former German concentration camp Gusen, among others.
During the IAC session, the Museum director presented awards "If not for those ten..." granted to volunteers and representatives of institutions supporting volunteerism at the Auschwitz Memorial on the day of the Museum's founding anniversary. This year’s awards were presented to the following: Stephan Bauer, Mata Chrapczyńska, Agnieszka Gregorczyk, Kamila Małysiak, Michał Markowicz, Axel Passeier, Małgorzata Passeier, Maria Poplaša, Sara Ranogajec and Magdalena Włodyka.
In 2016, more than 300 volunteers and interns from around the world assisted the Museum in its daily work, as well as 200 ZHR scouts, who supported employees of the Museum during the World Youth Days.