Online lesson about the establishing and the first years of Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum
„Auschwitz Museum in the first years of its operation” is the title of new online lesson prepared by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust for the 70th anniversary of creation of the Museum on the site of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. The author of the lesson is a historian at the Auschwitz Museum Research Center.
‘The lesson tells the story of the period 1945-1955, from the first works on establishing the Museum, through the beginning of organising the visits at the Museum which had 100 thousand visitors in 1946 before the official opening, creation of the first exhibition, Stalinist period when Museum was used for propaganda till 1955 when the authorities gave up imbuing its content with extreme political messages, and former prisoners of Auschwitz again could be a major inspiration for its shape’, said Agnieszka Juskowiak-Sawicka, the Head of E-learning at the ICEAH.
The first works on establishing the Museum began late in 1945 when Soviet authorities began to transfer the territory of the former Auschwitz camp to Polish administration.
‘At that time some former inmates postulated protecting the premises and setting up a museum. The initiative undertaken on 31 December 1945 by Alfred Fiderkiewicz, former inmate and the then executive director of the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland was most momentous. At a session of the Polish State National Council (KRN) held on that day, he presented a proposal to set up a space commemorating Polish and international martyrdom in Oświęcim and Brzezinka,’ said Dr. Jacek Lachendro.
On 1 February 1946 the Commission for Culture and Art of the KRN unanimously approved the recommendation, and entrusted the details of the follow-up to a commission of experts composed of representatives of the ministries of justice, reconstruction and culture and art, and of the Polish Union of Former Political Prisoners.
The official opening ceremony of the Museum was held on 14 June 1947, on the 7th anniversary of the arrival of the first transport of Polish political prisoners in Auschwitz concentration camp. ‘On 2 July 1947, three weeks after the actual opening, the Parliament of Poland endorsed the act incorporating the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. This quite unorthodox situation, where the institution initiated its operation first, to have the founding acts of law governing its operation approved only later was caused by the decision to open the Museum officially on 14 June, that is on the seventh anniversary of the first transport, and no session of the Parliament had been planned before early July. Thus, reluctant to postpone the opening of the Museum, the authorities decided to have it start its formal operation before the approval ensconced in relevant acts of law,’ said Jacek Lachendo.
The institution set up in 1947 embraced two parts of the former camp complex, as reflected in its official name During its operation, the Museum has become active in many fields, and currently combines archival, educational, preservation, scientific, publishing, exhibition, and collection-building functions. Importantly, it acts as the Memorial Site, where victims of Auschwitz concentration camp are commemorated.
As a token of respect to the symbolism and significance for the humanity, in 1979 the premises of the former camp were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Auschwitz is the only former concentration camp on the list, where it is known as “Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Death Camp (1940–1945)”. Today the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum ranks among the most important institutions in the world to research the history of the Holocaust and concentration camps. Since its opening, the Museum has been visited by approximately 44 million people from all over the world.