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Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (Polish: Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau) is a memorial and museum in Oświęcim, Poland (German: Auschwitz), which includes the German concentration camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. It is devoted to the memory of the murders in both camps during World War II. The museum performs several tasks, among them research into the Holocaust.

The museum

On July 2, 1947, the museum was founded by resolution of the Polish parliament. The area covers 191 hectares, twenty of them in camp Auschwitz I and 171 in camp Auschwitz II. Since 1979 the former concentration camp has belonged to the World Cultural Heritage and more than 25 million people have visited the museum.
The areas of remembrance are Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the train ramp between Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was used as a "debarkation-stop" between 1942–1944. The three kilometres between Auschwitz and Birkenau are within walking distance. The museum is situated in several original buildings.
The number of visitors has been increasing year by year. In 2006 more than one million people from 94 countries visited: from Poland (341,000), U.S. (96,000), UK (57,200), Italy (51,000), Germany (50,200), France (39,100), Israel (37,200), South Korea (35,400), Norway (30,600), and Spain (23,300).


After the Soviet Union handed over the camp to Poland in 1947, the parliament declared the area to be a museum on July 2, 1947. Simultaneously the first exhibition in the barracks was opened.
On the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the first deportation of Polish captives to camp Auschwitz, the exhibition was revised under assistance of former inmates. However, this exhibition was influenced by the Cold War and next to pictures of Jewish ghettos, photos of slums in the USA were presented.
After Stalin's death, a new exhibition was planned in 1955, which is basically still valid today. In 1959 every nation who had victims in Auschwitz received the right to present its own exhibition. However, victims like homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Sinti and Roma and Yeniche people did not receive these rights. The state of Israel was also refused the allowance for its own exhibition as the murdered Jews in Auschwitz were not citizens of Israel. In April 1968 the Jewish exhibition, designed by Andrzej Szczypiorski, was opened. A scandal occurred in 1979 when Pope John Paul II held a mass in Birkenau and called the camp a "Golgotha of our times".
In 1962 a prevention zone around the museum in Birkenau (and in 1977 one around the museum in Auschwitz) was established in order to maintain the historical condition of the camp. These zones were confirmed by the Polish parliament in 1999.In 1967 the first big memorial monument was inaugurated and in the 90s the first information boards were set up.

The National Exhibitions

Since 1960 the so-called "national exhibitions" have been located in the former concentration camp Auschwitz I. Most of them were renewed from time to time, for example those of Belgium, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Slovakia, Czech Republic and the former Soviet Union. The German exhibition, which was made by the former GDR, has not been renewed since.
The first national exhibition of the Soviet Union was opened in 1961 and renewed in 1977 and 1985. In 2003 the Russian organizing committee suggested to present a completely new exhibition. The Soviet part of the museum was closed, but the reopening was delayed as there were differences in the questions of the territorial situation of the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1941. The question of the territories of the Baltic countries, eastern Poland and parts of Romania could not be solved.
In 1978 Austria opened its own exhibition, presenting itself as a victim of National Socialism. This one-sided view motivated the Austrian political scientist Andreas Maislinger to work in the museum within the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP) in 1980/81. Later he founded the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service. The Austrian federal president Rudolf Kirchschläger had advised Maislinger that as a young Austrian he did not need to atone for anything in Auschwitz. Due to this disapproving attitude of the official Austrian representation, the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service could not be launched before September 1992.


In 1993 a memorial was placed in Amsterdam's Wertheim Park, a stark reminder of Auschwitz concentration camp. Made by Dutch artist and writer Jan Wolkers, it consists of broken mirrors, in which the skies are reflected, day and night.

In Wolkers' words, after the horror of Auschwitz 'The sky is wounded forever. Auschwitz was an unspeakably appalling attack upon everything that humanity stands for.'

The bitter facts can be read on a panel beside the memorial. Before the German invasion of 1940 there were 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands. Between 15 July 1942 and September 1944 around 107,000 Jews were deported. Of them only 5,200 survived the concentration camps, to return to the Netherlands after the war. 95,000 Jews from the Netherlands were deported to the extermination camps at Auschwitz and Sobibor. Only 500 of them survived.

The Dutch Auschwitz Comite commissioned Wolkers to make the Mirror Memorial. Initially it was placed, in a more sober version, in one of Amsterdam's municipal cemeteries. Each year on 27 January - the date on which the Russian army liberated the camp, an Auschwitz remembrance is held.