The 28th session of the International Auschwitz Council
The challenges related to the growing number of visitors to the Auschwitz Memorial, work on the new main exhibition of the Museum, as well as the summary of commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz were some of the topics of the International Auschwitz Council (IAC) meeting. The 28th session of the Council, which took place in Oświęcim on 1 and 2 June was chaired by Prof. Barbara Engelking. The meeting was also attended by the Deputy Minister for Culture and National Heritage Piotr Żuchowski.
The meeting began with a minute silence to commemorate Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, who passed away on April 24, 2015 and who had presided over the Council since 2000. In this capacity, he was also the main creator of the international consensus on the shape and future of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial.
In attendance were the new members of the IAC: former Auschwitz prisoner Halina Birenbaum and Prof. Dariusz Stola.
During the session, the Museum Director Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński summed up the activities of the Auschwitz Memorial, which had taken place since the last IAC meeting. He spoke among others of the online tour reservation system, which was introduced at the beginning of the year, as well as the growing number of visitors to the Memorial. In 2014, the site of the former camp was visited by a record 1.53 million people, and this year’s data indicates a possible increase in the number of visitors.
He also mentioned the new activities of the Museum online: the Museum’s new website launched in the beginning of the year, placing of fragments of the accounts of former prisoners of Auschwitz in the authentic area of the Memorial accessible thanks to QR codes, as well as the virtual tour addressed primarily to those unable to visit the Museum.
Director Cywiński also summed up the January commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, of which the most important guests were 300 former prisoners of Auschwitz from all over the world. He underlined the tremendous interest in this event from the media from all over the world. ‘Over 250 television stations provided a direct transmission of the event, thanks to which the words of former prisoners of Auschwitz who delivered the main anniversary speech, reached out "live" to more than half a billion people around the world. Additionally, newspaper articles devoted to the anniversary were read by more than one billion 750 million people,’ stressed director Cywiński.
During the meeting, the most important works related to the preservation and protection of the Memorial were also summarized. The participants discussed, among others the ending renovation of the Archives that store all original post-camp documents, the modernization project of the warehouses which is about to begin where camp textiles will be stored, installation of safety fire extinguishing system where the camp’s artworks are stored, as well as conservation works of the wooden and brick barracks in the site of the former Birkenau camp.
New publications of the Museum and the most important projects of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust were also presented, among others activities carried out in cooperation with the prison service, representatives of the Judiciary and Civil Rights Defender, as well as educational institutions and religious communities.
An important subject of the session was to present the state of work on the new main exhibition of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. ‘Following the discussion on the assumptions and scenario, we are already one step ahead. We are gradually approaching the implementation phase, and the funding this multi-year project, which cost is estimated at approx. PLN 100 million will be possible thanks to the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, which was declared in a signed letter of intent in March,’ said director Cywiński.
The new exhibition will be divided into three parts. The first will present the perpetrators, the camp as an institution and logistics and plans of changing the concentration camp into a centre for the immediate extermination of Jews in gas chambers. The second part will present the Holocaust as seen from the perspective of the victims, innocent people sent in the vast majority to death in the gas chambers. It will also show private objects brought to the camp by Jews deported to death. The third part will focus on concentration camp prisoners and present the planned dehumanization of people by the Germans.
On the second day of the meeting, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Żuchowski spoke about the implementation of a commemoration project at the site of the former extermination camp in Sobibor. Information was also presented on the priority of Ministry of Culture and National Heritage "Cultural Heritage - Places of National Memory", which aims to support local governments in providing sustainable care of the most important places of memory, which constitute material evidence of events essential for national identity. Members of the IAC were also acquainted with the state of the memorial site in Płaszów.