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"Archaeology" – exhibition on the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at the Memorial and the headquarters of UNESCO


The original personal items of Auschwitz victims, discovered in 1967 during archaeological works in the area of the gas chamber and crematorium III in Birkenau, will for the first time publicly presented at exhibitions in the Auschwitz Memorial and the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris. The exhibition "Archaeology" has been prepared on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, which we will be commemorated on 27 January 2017.


‘These items are extraordinary documents of extermination carried out in the camp by the Germans, but, above all, a moving personal testimony of the victims. In most cases these were the last personal belongings retained by the Jews who were referred immediately after selection at the ramp to death in the gas chambers, said Alicja Wójcik, the head of Exhibitions at the Memorial

Items to be exhibited include thermometers, empty bottles of medicines and perfumes, fragments of shoes, jewellery, watches, brushes, tobacco pipes, lighters, fragments of kitchenware, buttons, pocketknives, keys, and many items that conceal the mystery and history of the owners. 

The items presented at exhibition are part of the approx. 16 thousand objects derived from the archaeological works carried out in 1967, near the ruins of the gas chamber and crematorium III in Birkenau. For unknown reasons, only a small part of these items at that time was referred to the Museum Collections. A majority of these items for more than half a century had been deposited outside the Memorial, and remained in oblivion until June last year when an unusual message about their discovery circulated the world.

The impulse to commence several months search was the analysis of the film “Archaeology” directed by Andrzej Brzozowski who documented the work conducted at that time. The video clearly showed that a lot more objects were excavated at that time than presented in the archival inventory of the Collections  The Museum staff began to examine in detail every thread, even though it was uncertain whether the objects had not squandered or dispersed. However it was possible to make contact with the last living persons who participated in the archaeological project, and finally a sensational discovery was made.

The historic objects were located in 48 boxes in one of the buildings of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The vast majority of them the entire time were packed in individually marked boxes indicating among others the place of discovery and precise information regarding the object. In the June last year, the objects returned to the Memorial. ‘It is an unusual and unique day in the recent history of our Museum,’ said the director of the Museum, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński in June 2016 when the objects returned.

Approximately 1.1 million people died in the Auschwitz camp within 5 years of its existence. Among them, the majority i.e. about 1 million persons were Jews. The victims also included about 75 thousand Poles, 21 thousand Roma and 15 thousand Soviet prisoners of war, among others.

The Jews sent to death in the gas chambers were not aware of what awaited them. They were told that they would be placed in the camp, after taking a bath and undergoing disinfection.

They Jews who were rushed into the gas chambers to the very last moment of their life tried to retain their bits and pieces for their loved ones and close family, including things necessary for daily life. These unusual, symbolic traces of the victims can be seen at the exhibition.

The exhibition at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris will be opened on 26 January at 14:30. It will immediately be followed by a discussion titled “Educate for a better future. The role of historical sites and museums in teaching about the Holocaust", which will be attended by the director of the Auschwitz Museum, Dr Piotr M. A. Cywiński. The exhibition in Paris will be on display until 10 February from 9:00 - 17:00. Partner of the event is the Memorial de la Shoah.

The exhibition “Archaeology” will be available to visitors at the Auschwitz Memorial from 27 January to 24 February, in the of temporary exhibition hall in Block 12, from Sunday to Friday in the hours 10:00-16:00 in January and 1:.00-17:00 in February.

In 1979, the site of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as the only site of a similar nature. January 27, the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp, is commemorated in the world as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.