Saturday, February 19, 2011

Poland -- Changes and modernization coming at Auschwitz Museum

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The New York Times runs a long story on plans for change at the main exhibit at the Auschwitz memorial museum, from memorializing to teaching. These changes are long overdue. For teenagers, the Holocaust is ancient history: as the article point out, there are kids today visiting Auschwitz whose grandparents were born after WW2. Visitors need to learn from what they see as well as learn about what happened.
Now those in charge of passing along the legacy of this camp insist that Auschwitz needs an update. Its story needs to be retold, in a different way for a different age.
Partly the change has to do with the simple passage of time, refurbishing an aging display. Partly it’s about the pressures of tourism, and partly about the changing of generations. What is the most visited site and the biggest cemetery in Poland for Jews and non-Jews alike, needs to explain itself better, officials here contend.
A proposed new exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum here, occupying some of the same barracks or blocks, will retain the piled hair and other remains, which by now have become icons, as inextricable from Auschwitz as the crematoria and railway tracks. But the display will start with an explanatory section on how the camp worked, as a German Nazi bureaucratic institution, a topic now largely absent from the present exhibition, which was devised by survivors during the 1950s.

The Auschwitz museum/memorial was founded in 1947, and throughout the communist period made scant note of the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims there were Jewish -- I can't remember, but I doubt if homosexuals or Roma were even mentioned. Changes came of course after the fall of communism: information panels were added, misleading captions and other information was rectified, a new official guidebook was published, and the "pavilions" dedicated to individual countries were thoroughly revamped. But the exhibition itself remained largely the same.

It is important to point out, too (the New York Times story omits this) that for the past 10 year the Auschwitz Jewish Center has functioned in the city of Oswiecim (outside of which the Auschwitz camp was built). It is located in the sole surviving synagogue in the town -- which before WW2 had a majority Jewish population. The synagogue is a functioning house of worship, and the complex includes a study and research center as well as a permanent exhibit about pre-war Jewish life in Oswiecim.

No comments:

Post a Comment