University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial

The Polish government began planning a museum and memorial at Auschwitz almost immediately after the war ended. The Polish parliament passed an act creating the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on July, 2, 1947. The first exhibition opened in that same year in Auschwitz I. The initial exhibit was expanded in 1950, and a new exhibition was installed in 1955. This latter exhibition is still on display today, though it has been modified and revised. The museum has undergone many changes marking sites in the camp to better illustrate the complexities of the victimization of Jews and others at Auschwitz.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, located today on the site of the former Birkenau death camp, was a difficult project. An unsuccessful competition was held in 1957-58 under theguidance of British sculptor Henry Moore.

Four hundred designs were submitted, including one that envisioned the camp being submerged by a lake, with bridges over the camp and devotional places for remembering. By 1967, all submissions had been rejected, especially those that violated the July 2, 1947 law on the inadmissibility of changes to the concentration camp grounds. Several different forms were combined to make the present memorial. The unveiling of the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism in Birkenau, as the memorial was originally called,occurred in 1967 with approximately 200,000 people in attendance. Polish state officials, prisoners' organizations from many countries,the Israeli welfare minister, the East German and Italian foreign ministers, and numerous ambassadors and journalists were present. The memorial, too, has changed throughout the years. The plaques indicating that "4 million people" were killed at Auschwitz were removed in 1990. They were replaced with plaques stating the more accurate figure of “one and a half million.”

Auschwitz-Birkenau was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979. The former camp has also become a center for international conferences of scholars, politicians dealing with new problems of multi-culturalism and intolerance, and ethicists examining thesalient issues that made Germany, a country rich in culture and science, turn to mass murder during 1933-1945.

CHGS Links: Auschwitz

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Further Reading