Long-term minsterial program for financing creation of the new main exhibition
The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland will provide funding for the creation of the new main exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site. The letter of intent in this regard was signed on March 6 in Warsaw by minister Małgorzata Omilanowska and Piotr M.A. Cywiński, director of the Museum. Project costs are estimated at ca. PLN 100 million.
The creation of a special long-term program for the financing of the new exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site was announced by minister Omilanowska during the last session of the International Auschwitz Council.
"Creation of the exhibition which tells the story of Auschwitz in a modern, accessible as well as wise and balanced way will for sure be a key educational tool in formation of new generation of Poles and enabling them to understand what was the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, what was the Holocaust and what was the sacrifice of Poles imprisoned at this camp. This aim today received needed legal and financial foundation," said Prof. Małgorzata Omilanowska, the minister of culture and national heritage.
"The act was signed in a jubilee year of the end of the world war two and reflection about that war. The question how to pass the knowledge saved in facts, documents and museum objects is a world wide problem. It needs finances as well as a concept. The decision of Polish government and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage about the special support for creation of the new main exhibition is very meaningful. It seems that in Poland there is no difference of opinions about what was Auschwitz and how important this symbol is for the mankind," said Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, the chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.
The change of exposition is necessary for several reasons, connected in particular with the development of research on the history of Auschwitz but also with the generation change among visitors of the Memorial Site. What is also important is the fact that visitors who want to learn about the history of Auschwitz are coming from different new geographical and cultural areas. Moreover, current exposition has predominantly presented the mass scale of the crime committed by the Germans, whereas the new narration will also illustrate more the fate of an individual and the personal aspect of crime. Furthermore, today our resources include a significantly bigger number of accounts of former prisoners, witnesses and perpetrators. At present it is also possible to include a wider range of authentic objects in the exhibition and ensure their safety.
“The new exhibition will be to a large extent based on the experience of the old exhibition, in particular as far as such aspects as its dignity, tranquillity, certain austerity and minimalism are concerned. It will still aim at showing rather than narrating. For visitors it will constitute a fragment of the feeling of authenticity experienced while walking through the site of the former camp”, emphasized Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, director of the Museum.
The works on the new main exhibition began in 2008, when the initial concept was adopted. Museum employees, supported by a special International Consultation Group consisting of eminent experts in the field from Poland, USA, Great Britain, Germany and Israel, were working on the scenario. Special Office of the Representative for the New Main Exhibition was created in the Museum, coordinating the works on the entire project. Main designer of the exhibition was also selected through a competition. The International Auschwitz Council as well as the representative of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage were all the time engaged in the works.
"I am very happy that this project is already so advanced. In Junne the members of the International Auschwitz Council will see the complete version of the project. We are curious how this will look in reality. We support this actions with all our hearts. At every stage we are going to observe and consult the work," said Prof. Barbara Engelking, the chairwoman of the International Auschwitz Council.
The exposition will be constructed on ground floors of six historical blocks of the former camp Auschwitz I, marked with numbers 4-9. This solution will make the exhibition more accessible for the elderly and the disabled. Many groups will also be able to move around the exhibition area at the same time. But before the works connected with creating the exhibition can begin, the buildings will have to undergo conservation.
At present, design works connected with the visual aspect of the new main exhibition are nearing completion. In a sense, the new main exhibition will be in total opposition to modern trends in the art of exhibiting, based on the attempts to surprise the visitor, transport him into virtual realities, multimedia or interactivity.
The new exhibition will be divided into three sections. The first will present the perpetrators, the institutional aspect of the camp as well as the logistics and plans to transform the concentration camp into a centre of direct extermination of Jews in gas chambers. The second section will present the topic of the Holocaust from the perspective of the victims, innocent people sent in the vast majority to death in gas chambers. Personal belongings brought to the camp by Jews deported for death will also be presented here. The third section will be devoted to the prisoners of the concentration camp and will aim at showing the dehumanization of people planned by the Germans.
“It was of particular importance for us to preserve certain symbols which constituted the power of the old main exhibition created by former prisoners themselves. In the new exposition we want to use significantly bigger number of original camp exhibits which present the history of Auschwitz from the perspective of an individual”, said Alicja Białecka, Representative for the New Main Exhibition.
Further stages of works will continue for the next 11 years. It is connected with the need to perform conservation works in the authentic buildings of the former camp as well as with the fact that the creation of the new exposition cannot in any way interfere with the availability of the Memorial for visitors, as each year over 1.5 million people from around the world come to Auschwitz. Thanks to special planning of the works, Museum educators-guides will be able to present to the visitors all the most important aspects of the history of this German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp.
Exhibitions at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
The first plan of creating the Museum in the former Auschwitz camp, developed mainly by former prisoners, assumed that the remnants of the camp and the exposition should form a whole. On June 14th 1947, the first permanent exposition was inaugurated. It was realized in blocks number 4 to 11 and in crematorium I (which at the time did not include stoves reconstructed from original components in the autumn of 1947).
In the Stalinist years 1950-1951, the exposition was developed and it took up a dozen former camp buildings. Apart from the content related to the subject of the camp, it presented political and social issues of the time, which did not have much in common not only with the camp, but even with world war II.
The creation of the next permanent exhibition was also based on the idea that the area of the camp both in Auschwitz and in Birkenau should constitute the basic and main part of the Museum, as it commemorates the martyrdom of camp victims and constitutes the evidence of German crimes. The exposition was supposed to be treated as an additional element, illustrating the fate of prisoners from the moment of arriving to Auschwitz to the moment of extermination. It was inaugurated in 1955 and has not been replaced since then.
The main Museum exposition, located within the former Auschwitz I camp in blocks number 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, underwent numerous analyses, its replacement was suggested and preparatory works were undertaken several times, involving the creation of new concepts of the exposition. However, none of the suggested overall changes was realized, in particular due to insufficient funding and the modifications, additions and reductions were of limited character.
Apart from the main exhibition, the Museum hosts 12 national exhibitions representing the relations between the history of German occupation in the countries from which transports were sent to Auschwitz and the fate of their citizens in the camp.