MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

Task 8

Task 8 Conservation of suitcases and Jewish prayer shawls, conservation and scanning of archival

Completed in 2012

The task Conservation of suitcases and Jewish prayer shawls, as well as conservation and scanning of archival documents involves conservation efforts aimed at slowing the decay processes taking place in the documents and items which are a meaningful testimony to the tragic history of KL Auschwitz.

The following 4 tasks have been planned for the year 2012:

  • conservation of 35–40 suitcases,
  • conservation of 3–5 Death Books from 1943,
  • deacidification of 26 Death Books from 1942,
  • digitisation of 25–31 Death Books.

Conservation of 40 suitcases was completed in 2012. In the process of conservation, suitcases were disinfected and cleaned in such a way as to avoid affecting the historical layers which originated during camp operation, thus considered original. Secondary protective coats were removed and new applied where absolutely necessary to stop the deterioration advancing decay processes in all the suitcase elements.

The Death Books “Sterbebücher von Auschwitz” contained in the Museum Archives are books containing death certificates of nearly 69,000 inmates. The condition of the 1943 registers was so bad that it rendered their use impossible. The pH of paper was at a level of 4.5-5. Urgent conservation work was needed due to such strong acidification.

Full conservation of the books involved:

  • preparation of descriptive documentation of the preservation state prior to conservation;
  • mechanical cleansing;
  • checking the water resistance of the writing media;
  • securing the writing media;
  • paper bath and deacidification;
  • restoration of missing parts;
  • structural strengthening of the paper;
  • ironing of the cards;
  • binding cards into signatures;
  • sewing cards into a block;
  • making of the cover and suspending the block inside it;
  • production of protective acid–free cardboard boxes;
  • preparation of the final descriptive and photographic documentation.

By the end of 2012 full conservation of Books 1-5 , dating from 1943 and containing over 3000 leaves in total, was completed.
The 1942 books underwent conservation in the years 1995–99. Nevertheless they were the most acidified collection of archives kept in the Museum. Considering the pH of paper ranging from 3.5-5, it was decided that the deacidification process should start without delay. All the 26 books were deacidified in 2012, as planned.
All the books which underwent conservation, both in full and through deacidification, were digitalised in 2012. In addition three books of SS-Hygiene Institut which were planned for 2013, were also deacidified.

Completed in 2013

1. Conservation of archive documents

The aim of conservation was to slow down destructive processes in documents and objects witnessing the tragic history of KL Auschwitz. These archive documents are Death Books – Sterbebücher von Auschwitz – which were in poor condition. Covers which were separated from the books could not protect their content any longer. Loose leaves fell out, exposing the books to mechanical damage. The low pH of paper also qualified the exhibits for conservation. Conservation work of each book included compiling descriptive and photographic documentation, mechanical cleaning of the leaves and the cover, testing water resistance of writing media and treating the cards with a protective agent. The leaves were bathed and deacidifed, missing parts filled, the structure reinforced and the leaves ironed. Right after the leaves were put together to form signatures, all pages were digitised. After digitisation, the leaves in the book were sewn together again. The cover was also washed and structurally reinforced. Then the book was bound. After the work was finished, protective boxes were made. Complete conservation of 10 Death Books was carried out in this year.

Ten Death Books of this set of documents were digitised and three Death Books deacidified in 2013. All of them were subject to conservation in the years 1995-1999. The process of deacidification was undertaken in view the very low pH value, despite earlier conservation work. Digitisation will help to protect original documents against the hazard of mechanical damage when the originals are made available to those interested.

Digitisation and deacidification of a dozen or so sets of documents or their parts was also conducted under the work programme for the year 2013. The documents include the following

  • SS-Hygiene Institut Hauptbuch,
  • KL Auschwitz inventory books,
  • Records of Block No 20,
  • Hospital records of the block,
  • Books of serial numbers (Nummernbuch),
  • Grzesiewska’s diary,
  • SS Laut Soldbuch,
  • Various records administration department, newly collected,
  • Zentralbauleitung documents.

In the case of Zentalbauleitung documents, the scope of conservation work was extended to include cleaning dirt of the paper surface and to back torn parts of the plans.

2. Tallit conservation

Tallits on display at the Museum’s permanent exhibition were also dealt with under this task. They were covered with dust, deformed, with traces of earlier numerous unaesthetic and damaging repairs and thus they qualified for conservation. The conservation of twelve tallits was of preservation type, encompassing cleaning the fabric of loose and non-historical traces of dirt, securing worn out fabric against further damage, and, as appropriate, removing unoriginal repairs dating from post-1945, while preserving the testimony of KL Auschwitz. The task was also aimed to prepare the exhibits for display. In June 2013 the work was outsourced to a contractor who was selected in a call for tenders. Conservation work was divided into 2 stages, each consisting of the conservation of 6 prayer shawls. Under the first stage, conservation of the tallits began early in October 2013. Under the first stage, conservation of the tallits was completed early in October 2013. Conservation of the second-stage tallits ended in December.

Completed in 2014

From January 2014 full conservation of five Death Books was carried out. Thus the conservation of that set of volumes was finished. Like in previous years, comprehensive works consisting of the cleaning  of all elements of books, bathing in water and deacidification after previously fixing the writing media, supplementing missing parts with paper mass matching in colour, sewing the block of the book and attaching it within the repaired covers. All the works were done very carefully, to preserve the historical character of the items.
Conservation of the Death Books of  KL Auschwitz III, five Roentgen Books and 191 bills of landing were also carried out. The documents were cleaned only on the surface, not to erase their history and the torn parts of the paper were secured using Japanese tissue, the paper was deacidified. Part of the documents were humidified and ironed.
Also, more than 4000 documents were deacidified. They included SS-men personal files, Krafthahrzeug Anforderung, the inmates’ sickness cards, personal files of inmates, as well as documents and  plans  of the Zentralbauleitung.
After the work was completed, all the items were scanned and packed in new protective packaging made from materials which are safe for the documents.

Completed in 2015

From January to October  2015 full conservation of following archival documents was carried out:

  • X-Ray Station Book – 8 toms
  • Dentist Station Book – 2 books
  • Dentist Ambulatory Book – 1 book

Mentioned above archival material were subject to complex conservation works such as mechanical cleansing, checking the water resistance of the writing media, paper bath, restoration of missing parts, deacidification and ironing of the cards.

In this period also some partial conservation works were underdone in such documents as:

  • Letters and telegrams concerning employment of prisoners,
  • Death Register of KL Mauthasusen,
  • Fahrbereitschaft
  • Bescheinigung
  • Inventory Book

The archival material was cleaned from the surface dust. The torn parts in the paper were stuck and the paper was deacidified.

All archival documents were placed in protective boxes. They also were digitized.

The task was completed in October 2015. 

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