Special Tours

Behind the Scenes of the Museum and Memorial Auschwitz-Birkenau

Walking through the gates of Auschwitz was surreal. The infamous camp sees about one million visitors every year. Each of the barracks have been renovated as exhibition spaces or offices, and many of the exhibitions have been organized by specific countries for the Jews from these respective countries. In 1947, Auschwitz became a protected site of the state with the purpose of remembering those who perished there. Since then, the staff has been preserving and conserving the site and artifacts found at the site.

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The man in the background of this photo is testing samples slivers of windows from Auschwitz barracks. 

We were fortunate to arrange a tour through the conservation lab with a specialist in paper conservation. Our tour guide took us through many different offices in the lab. In one of the offices, we met a man who was testing a sliver of one of the barrack windows. His test determined whether the windows were original; if they were he would have to establish a plan to preserve them, and if they were not original he would be able to take more liberty with replacing the windows, still making them looking as much like the original as possible. The test he ran took much longer than the time we spent with him, so we don’t know what he decided. The dedication to authenticity is remarkable.

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Different paper items in the paper conservatory lab. 

In another office, we saw a dozen or more paintings done by forced laborers in the camp. When artists entered the camp, officers would demand different paintings including portraits or copies of famous works of art. The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau organizes exhibitions of them periodically.

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The pieces of paper found in prisoners shoes. 

We also saw a room for the preservation of luggage and shoes. Each shoe was put into a special box for preservation. In some occasions, preservationists find papers stuffed into the shoes, maybe they were too big for the owner. The preservation lab keeps everything they find, even these small, torn slips of paper, as they make the image of the person more complete.

The last office we visited was the paper preservation room where they preserve different journals and story books found in Auschwitz and Birkenau. One of the most touching objects was a children’s Christmas storybook, with detailed and colorful pictures of Santa Claus and different scenes of Christmas including Christmas dinner, mistletoe and stockings hanging on the mantel.

This tour through the conservation lab was enlightening as it changed the way we looked at the different artifacts in the camp. Each of them was carefully cleaned, selected and placed. Each object belonged to a separate individual, and the attention given to each object reminded us of the individual to whom it belonged.

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Auschwitz archivist with our students.

We were also able to meet with one of the archival researchers at Auschwitz. He showed us different artifacts, including deportation lists, identification cards, etc. He also informed us of the process to identify individuals that had been at Auschwitz. People often send requests to the office and received either identification cards or deportations lists, as well as any other information that was collected. Generally, only an identification card with limited personal information or a deportation list is available. Those that were selected for forced labor had identification cards, while those who were sent to the gas chambers right away had no identification other than a name on a deportation list. However, the office also archives mail sent in and out of the camp, however this mail was extremely censored so it didn’t offer a real sense of life in the camp. Nevertheless, it still offers more information about the individual. When Nazis censored the mail, they would literally cut out the sections of the letter they didn’t like, which often resulted in a flimsy scrap of paper left to send to their families and loved ones. Oftentimes, in cases like those sent from Theresienstadt, those deported were forced to send postcards back to Theresienstadt saying they had arrived safely and the camp was similar to Theresienstadt. All these letters have been preserved.

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Our group entering Auschwitz-1 under the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate. 

Thanks to these offices and the hard work of those we met, the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz and Birkenau offers information that would have been lost about those who lived and perished there.

 

 


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Special Tours

Our visit to Poland: the Lublin Ghetto and Museum

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Students Meredith, Coos and Hana and Guide John listening to our NN Theatre guide. 

While in Lublin, our group visited the NN Theatre. After the fall of communism in Poland, there was a surge to regain the memories lost about the war. The project’s goal was to study and learn about Jewish history in WWII, and it started at the Grodzka Gate, or the gate to the Jewish Quarter in old Lublin, which became the NN Theatre. Coincidently, it was also the gate to the Jewish Ghetto during the Holocaust and it was part of an underground black market in Lublin.

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Files in the background as students from Cohort V listen to our guide

Now, the building acts as a functioning museum and education center about the Holocaust. The rooms are lined with archives, most rooms have rows of shelves all around the walls, and they have a folder for every single Jew who lived and died in the Lublin Ghetto. Sometimes, there is only a name and an address and other times the folder is full of information, but the group continues to collect information on the Jewish population. They also curate an impressive photo archive, and in many of the photos the staff can identify different people and tell their stories.

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Students from Cohort V in the NN Theatre 

As there are very few Jews remaining in Lublin, the center is run almost completely by non-Jews. Throughout the year, they host different educational activities to learn about Jewish culture and the Holocaust. They also offer guided tours through the museum, and, most importantly, their archive offers amazing research to scholars looking for information, particularly on Jews in Lublin.

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Our Guide at the NN Theatre explaining the background of the organization. 

 

Feel free to learn more about the museum and their archives at their website: http://teatrnn.pl/en/

 


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Seminars, Special Tours

Our Visit to the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum: Research in the Archives

This is part two of a series about our four day seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House. You can read about the first day of our visit here.

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Cohort V visiting the Remembrance Hall exhibition.

On the second day of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Seminar, Cohort V met with Anat Bratman-Elhalel, the head of archives. She took us to the Remembrance Hall, an exhibit that was just finished a year ago. The exhibition is designed in such a way that the archives are brought to the public. The artifacts are behind dark glass, the visitors use touch screens to illuminate the objects and get information about each of the objects. Four of our students are helping further the research of the exhibit. Anat talked to us about what remembrance is and how to allow the artifacts tell us history.

 

The students were also taken to the Researchers Room and given access to the vast archives. The Ghetto Fighters’ House has an exceptional collection of art made during the Holocaust, and most of their pieces are available for viewing online. One of our students will be assisting with an exhibition of Malva Schalek’s work from the Theresienstadt Ghetto. Malva was killed in Auschwitz but her paintings linger and relate what life was like in Theresienstadt. This exhibition will start in June, so stay tuned for more information.

The students were also taken through different exhibitions at the museum, including the Warsaw Ghetto Fights Back exhibition. The museum was designed in such a way for groups to be taken through each exhibit exclusively their their own group. Each exhibit has a place for a group to sit and discuss the exhibit. Our students discussed the importance of resistance in the Holocaust, including spiritual resistance, a term coined by Miriam Novitch, a Holocaust survivor and founding member of the Ghetto Fighters’ House kibbutz. Miriam advocated for Holocaust survivors who weren’t involved in active violent resistance, but called attention to resistance through participation in Jewish traditions, prayer, even living.

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Cohort V at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exhibition.

The students were also brought to the Camps Exhibition, here they were asked to dissect the symbolism in the exhibition design. They talked about exhibition design pertaining to the Holocaust and how to successfully show and impart messages. The Ghetto Fighters’ House staff was excellent in sharing museology with our students.

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Cohort V working with testimonies from founders of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Kibbutz


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

 

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Current Students, Internships, Research

John Shares about Internships at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

Starring John Roxborough


John has an internship this year with the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. He will be researching and working with artifacts in the impressive archives to share individual stories of the Holocaust.


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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