Resistance movement in the German Auschwitz camp – new exhibition at the Memorial
On June 14th, marking the anniversary of the deportation of first Poles to KL Auschwitz, a new exhibition was made available to the public in two rooms on the ground floor of Block 11 in the former Auschwitz I camp, devoted to the resistance movement in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Among the participants of the inauguration ceremony there were among others Deputy Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło and Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage Jarosław Sellin.
“Block 11 occupies a place of particular importance for the history of Auschwitz not only due to the fact that it used to constitute camp prison, but also that SS men shot thousands of people in its courtyard. Many of them were involved in the resistance movement activity opposing the oppressor both within the camp as well as outside it. The exhibition was prepared in recent months shows comprehensive history of the camp resistance movement. In this historical space this story gains symbolical meaning”, said Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz Museum.
First part of the exhibition concentrates on the activities undertaken from the early days of the camp by both military as well as civilian Polish prisoners. This refers among others to the Military Organization Union (ZOW) established by captain Witold Pilecki as well as other Polish conspiratorial units formed by the representatives of various political environments. Pilecki has its own section within the exhibition, including among others the fragments of reports prepared basing on his messages. Repressions that the members of camp resistance movement had to face constitute another part of the exhibition.
The second part presents the development of resistance movement formed by prisoners from other countries. Separate structures were established for example among Soviet POWs, the Czech or the French.
In May 1943, international leftist environments formed the Oświęcim Fighting Group, which in mid-1944 established the contact with the Polish underground, thus forming common Oświęcim Military Council.
The exhibition offers its visitors also the access to the most important documents which were made available to the world through the resistance movement. Among them there is for example the list of 6868 names of Polish female prisoners who perished in the camp between August 1942 and January 1945 as well as photocopies of the plans of gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau. The exhibition also shows the places connected with conspiracy activities. It describes different attempts undertaken to improve prisoners’ life as well as escapes organized by the resistance movement.
A separate subject is constituted by the conspiracy established by isolated Sonderkommando prisoners, in particular Jews forced by the SS to work within the infrastucture of extermination.
On the walls and ceiling joists in the rooms where the new exhibition is located the inscriptions by so-called police prisoners incarcerated in Block 11 can be seen. They were the Poles transported to the camp among others from the investigation prison in Mysłowice starting from February 1943. They were waiting in the halls on the ground floor for the session of Gestapo summary court. They were usually sentenced to death at the Death Wall or in the crematoria of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The inscriptions left by them are under conservators’ supervision. Now they have been made available for visitors.