MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

Projects

The project co-financed from European Commission grant in scope of the programme „Europe for Citizens”

Project „Auschwitz - Preserving Authenticity - nine tasks for the years 2012-2015”

On 12 December 2011, an agreement was signed for financing between the European Commission and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in the form of a direct grant in the amount of four million euros for the period from 2012 to 2015. Funding from the European Commission will take place within the framework of the Programme: Europe for Citizens, Action 4 Active European Remembrance and will amount to 95% of the project with the Museum contributing the remaining 5%. Grant Application Form of the project was accepted in October 2011 under the name "Auschwitz - Preserving Authenticity - nine tasks for the years 2012 - 2015", under which the following tasks are scheduled

 

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Notice: The sole responsibility lies with the author and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Roof preservation

In 2008, funding from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage made it possible to preserve the roof of the historical block adjacent to the camp crematorium. This block stands in the immediate vicinity of the visitors’ route, and its roof was in the worst condition of any of the buildings at the Auschwitz I site. 

This project involved both construction and conservation work, including the repair of damaged elements of the roof frame and the replacement of those that had deteriorated too badly to be repaired. It was also necessary to replace all the lath. The rafters were reprofiled and the transverse footing beams reinforced. Steel reinforcements were added to remove the loads on the structural elements. The original ceramic roofing tiles were strengthened and secured.

Painting from the SS canteen

Work on the so-called Mess Hall Painting is underway in the Conservation Workshop. When the camp was in operation, this item was part of the furnishings of the SS mess hall on ulica Kolbego. It was painted on panels attached to one of the walls of the large room in the mess hall. 

It originally consisted of four parts, depicting three figures and a ribbon with an inscription in German. When the decision was taken to transport it to the Museum, it was contaminated by microorganisms and a layer of whitewash covered the composition. The entire painting was very dirty, which further obscured the image. In November 2007, the painting was first prepared for shipment and then transported to the Collections Department. Conservation work has been underway since the following March. Disinfection came first. Next, the remaining hangers were removed and the superficial dirt stripped away, as was the layer of whitewash.

Because the painted area was in bad shape, individual parts of the surface were reinforced with glue and fixing agent. Because of its large dimensions, a framework was designed to hold the separate parts in place, making it possible to move the painting, exhibit it, or store it.

Preservation of the SS-Hygiene Institut archival collections

A three-year project to conserve the archival collections associated with the SS-Hygiene Institut began in January 2008. This cooperative effort with the Federal Land of North Rhine-Westphalia is financed by the German side, and will last until December 2010.   

Museum specialists are working together with students and graduates of German conservation departments. The Preservation Department staff has developed the procedures being used and is directing and supervising the work.

The SS-Hygiene Institut records date from the period between April 1943 and January 12, 1945. They were created at the institute in Oświęcim, which performed hygienic and bacteriological research and analysis for SS, Wehrmacht, and police units, as well as the concentration camp. The documents include the names of people from whom samples were analyzed (including members of the Auschwitz I SS garrison and prisoners of Auschwitz II-Birkenau and the sub-camps), as well as data on the institute administration and the prisoners employed there as auxiliaries.

The aim of the conservation work is above all to enhance the longevity of these highly acidic, and sometimes crumbling or torn archival materials. The documents are scanned before and after in order to record their state of preservation. The paper is cleaned, de-acidified, patched, and structurally reinforced. This results in clear improvement to the state of the originals, as well as a digital record that can be used in detailed historical studies.

Remains of chimneys of barracks in Birkenau

The vestiges of the wooden barracks are a part of the image of the protected reserve that is the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site. Chimneys, fragments of walls, sinks, and floors go to make up a characteristic landscape that represents the scale of the entire concentration and death camp. The main goal of the work carried out is to secure the structure of the chimneys and the remains of the walls. 

Structural reinforcement to prevent the collapse of these artifacts was followed by conservation work to enhance the structural integrity of the damaged bricks and mortar. The rare extant fragments of plaster were reattached to the walls with adhesive. 

Aside from traditional photographic documentation, photogrammetry was also carried out before the start of conservation work. The method allows us to record the conditions of the artifacts in a very detailed way. This is extremely important in the case of ruins, which are directly exposed to the elements and therefore suffer from accelerated corrosive effects.

Conservation of children’s shoes

The vast quantity of shoes in the enormous heaps on display illustrates the dimensions of the phenomenon of the concentration camp and the Holocaust, while the examination of a single shoe reveals the story of an individual human being. In the case of the shoes that underwent conservation, these are the stories of children. The conservation of the children’s shoes was the final stage in a larger project to preserve all the shoes in the display cases. The conservation of the children’s shoes was awarded a prize as Museum Event of the Year in 2005. 

It is therefore worth examining the scale of the entire undertaking. About 80 thousand shoes, including some 8 thousand children’s shoes, were preserved in the years 2003-2005. The work was scheduled to last no more than 18 weeks. The decision to conserve the original shoes was taken because of both their condition and their great educational value. The shoes had already undergone conservation on many occasions in the past, but this had always been conservation on a mass scale. The most recent work involved the individual treatment of each shoe, which created an opportunity to study them anew.

The conservation of the children’s shoes was more than a struggle to preserve the material testimony of Auschwitz. It was also an attempt to use these objects in a new way to tell a tragic story, and it continues to this day to offer us important information in the form of the small-scale discovery of items such as personal belongings, signatures, and fragments of documents and newspapers.

Protection of the ruins of the gas chambers II and III in Birkenau

Protective work at the ruins of gas chambers II and III at the Auschwitz-Birkenau site ended. The ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria constitute some of the most important material evidence of the crime of the Holocaust. The ruins of crematoria 2 and 3 are located below the ground level. Protection of those unique places demands stopping the soil from putting pressure on the ruins. In 2008 and 2009 the ruins of gas chamber II and III were protected. 

The condition of the ruins is deteriorating from year to year, due to atmospheric conditions, the high level of ground water, the natural erosion of the building material, the pressure of the earth against the parts of the gas chamber walls that are still in existence, and, at times, the irresponsible behavior of groups of visitors. Thanks to this necessary work the remains of the extermination machinery will still be a warning for the future generation.

The original structure of the ruins was not touched. In a distance, around the ruins of the gas chambers, a special protective construction was prepared, using the micropile method. With the approval of the International Auschwitz Council and the Małopolska Monuments Officer, and in consultation with UNESCO experts, a team of professional specialists chose this technology as the method for preventing the complete collapse of the ruins.

The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum paid for the work, which was carried out under diligent supervision by conservation specialists and archaeologists. The head rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, exercised rabbinical oversight.