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"A piece of the world surrounded by barbed wire..." The fate of Polish citizens in KL Auschwitz - a new temporary exhibition


The words of Auschwitz Survivor Tadeusz Borowski, "A piece of the world surrounded by barbed wire..." is the motto of the new temporary exhibition presented in Block 21 at the former Auschwitz I site. It is devoted to the fate of Polish citizens deported to the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. 

The exhibition will be on display until the new permanent Polish exhibition, currently under construction in Block 15, is completed.


‘This temporary exhibition is, in a way, a substitute exhibition. Block 15, which used to house the severely outdated Polish exhibition, has been closed to the public. To ensure that the Polish history of Auschwitz, which relates to almost half a million people, remains accessible during the conservation works and installation of the new permanent exhibition, we have decided to create a comprehensive temporary exhibition,’ said Museum Director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.

Between 1940 and 1945, the Germans deported about 1.3 million people to Auschwitz, including an estimated 450,000 citizens of the Second Polish Republic: about 300,000 Jews, 150,000 Poles and 1,400 Roma.

The exhibition on their fate consists of several chapters. The first focuses on the story of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz on 14 June 1940 from Tarnów. The prisoners of the first transport are depicted in recently discovered unique photographs from the collection of Marek Tomaszewski, among others. Subsequent sections recount various major deportation actions of Polish citizens: from the Zamojszczyzna region, the ghettos of the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie region and the Litzmannstadt ghetto, or insurgent Warsaw.

‘Through archival material, photographs, and replicas of objects, one can learn about the history of the various groups of Polish citizens deported at Auschwitz. We will see their faces and read the accounts of people of different origins and backgrounds brutally thrown into a new, ruthless, and dehumanising reality surrounded by barbed wire. It is a story about people whose lives were taken away by the war, a war that pays no attention to age, gender, or education,’ said Marta Kubińska, curator of the exhibition. 

Additionally, part of the exhibition constitutes a special timeline portraying the fate of almost 60 Polish citizens deported and imprisoned in the camp - Poles, Jews and Roma.

‘The entire exhibition is characterised by a central graphic motif of lines symbolising the wires that envelop the "piece of the world." It uses the same organisational lines for individual contents as those found at KL Auschwitz for personnel sheets, cards, criminal reports, and death certificates. The exhibition features an additional line - a time stamp. The period between 1940 and 1944, the time of the deportation of Polish citizens to Auschwitz,’ said Anita Łukaszyk-Nagi, author of the exhibition concept.

The exhibition features replicas of objects that hold significance concerning the fate of the camp's prisoners. ‘The items on exhibition include Maria Malikowska's dress, a gorget bearing the Polish eagle in bas-relief, a double portrait of Calvary Capt. Witold Pilecki, miniature shoes sewn for Batsheva Dagan, and a letter adorned with an illustration by Bronisław Czech. The creation of these objects involved a collaborative effort with multiple artists over several months, with great attention to maintaining fidelity to the originals,’ stated Aleksandra Mausolf.

The exhibition is complemented by copies of secret messages and archival materials and closes with messages from the Survivors to the contemporary world. 

“People across all generations must educate themselves about these historical events, understand the consequences of hatred, and work towards preventing their recurrence anywhere. We all come into this world the same way: we mature, grow, feel fear, joy, pain, and love - we grow old and die. Every creature wants to live, and no one has the right to take it away from others! The highest value is Life," - Halina Birenbaum's message reads.

The origins of Auschwitz, the reasons for the arrest and incarceration of Poles in the camp and the plans to expand Auschwitz as the main camp for prisoners from German-occupied Poland are discussed in the online lesson "Poles in KL Auschwitz".