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Only a fragment of the intended exhibition was made available for visitors on the day of opening of the Museum, as it could not have been completed for both financial and organisational reasons. Only the following exhibitions were ready: “Murder of the Millions” in Block 4, “Kanada” or things that have remained after the murdered Jews in blocks 5 and 6, the works of Jerzy Brandhuber, Mieczysław Kościelniak, Tadeusz Myszkowski: artist painters, former inmates in Block 7, and the conditions in a block in 1940 and in 1944 in blocks 8 and 9 respectively. Block 11, known as “the Block of Death” with the yard, the former gas chamber, and Crematorium I were also made accessible.

The exhibition in Block 4 was composed of multiple sections. There were symbolical remnants of the victims of Auschwitz in the underground section displayed on eight tables surrounded with barbed wire: children’s shoes and clothes, women’s hair, prostheses, robes of clergy of various denominations, a Jewish khalat, a Polish Highlander costume, a peasant’s threadbare coat, and a worker’s overalls. Placed in the background was a cross, providing a symbol of suffering, and an urn with the ashes of the victims.

Two big maps were displayed in the first room on the ground floor of Block 4. One presented European countries where transports (mostly of Jews) were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp from, and the other—the location and territorial reach of the main camp and Birkenau.

This is how we reach the former Block 4-a. A dark entrance. Only the glare of suppressed red lights in the depth. I walk inside and I stop in shock. The cellars of this block reflect the whole vastness of crime committed in Auschwitz. Individual niches hold symbols of all the layers of the society that found their death here. There are peasant threadbare coats next to Highlander garb. Robes of the clergy of all confessions. Children’s slippers in one of them speak for themselves, while the hair of murdered women next to them inspires horror. For a long time, we can’t leave this Sanctuary of Martyrdom—touched to the core.

Source: Na największym cmentarzu świata, Express Wieczorny daily, No. 167, 5 November 1946, p. 3.

Underground of block 4. In the center, in the distance, there is an illuminated cross on the wall.  On the sides there are horizontal display cases with items stolen from people deported to Auschwitz.

Source: APMA-B

Fragment of the exhibition in the cellars of Block 4.

The following room was devoted to the mass murder of the Jewish nation. The central place of the exhibition designed within was taken by a sarcophagus with a menorah on its top, with a white dove seen taking flight above it. The inscription in Hebrew over the entire composition read yizkor, that is “remember”. An urn with the ashes of victims stood opposite. The whole was complemented by photographs and documents provided by the Central Jewish Historical Commission, paintings by former inmate, Ella Liebermann, information about the Jewish resistance, and a list of eminent Jewish representatives of science, culture, and art murdered during the war.

A symbolic sarcophagus covered with wreaths. At its top there is a menorah and above it there is a dove - the symbol of peace. At the top there is an inscription

Source: APMA-B

Fragment of the exhibition in Block 4 prepared by Jewish historians and artists.

One of the pavilions of the State Museum … in Oświęcim is devoted to the martyrdom of Jews. … The main element of the pavilion is a sarcophagus symbolising the martyrdom of Jews. Set on it is a menorah, and a dove symbolising the souls of the martyrs’ hovers over it. There are Jewish ornaments on both sides of the composition, and inscription yizkor above it.

Source: Sarkofag z białą gołębicą. Żydowski pawilon w Oświęcimiu, Gazeta Ludowa daily, No. 182, 6 July 1947, p. 4.

The fourth block was designed as the Jewish pavilion. One a half million Jews died in Auschwitz. A huge map shows which countries they were brought to Poland from. The other one is the map of Auschwitz. One side of the room is taken by a mausoleum with a historical menorah symbolising the millions of graves. Today, those memorials are covered with wreaths. … In a side room we see plaster models of the crematoria. … Colossal glass urns with hair are situated upstairs. There are two tons of hair. … It was really hard to look at all that, with your eyes dry, especially when among that cloud of hair you could clearly see the soft white locks that must have belonged to children. The other exhibits are photographs and drawings illustrating life in the camp and the technique of German cruelty.

Source: Henryk Rachman, Na polach śmierci, Opinia, No. 20, 30 June 1947, p. 4.

The following room contained two models of Birkenau crematoria: one in its entirety, and the other in cross section, accompanied by Zyklon B cans with pellets that used to contain the chemicals. A custom-built display case upstairs contained two tons of hair of the murdered women. 

The section of the Museum devoted to the mass murder was complemented by the exhibition in blocks 5 and 6 entitled “Kanada”. It contained objects stolen from Jews—victims of genocide: prayer robes, backpacks, prostheses, kitchenware, spectacles, photographs, banknotes, letters, documents found in the clothing of the deported (Block 5), baskets, cutlery, shoe wax cans, combs, lipsticks, mirrors, thermos flasks, shoes, clothing, suitcases (Block 6).

The designers and organisers of the Museum of Martyrdom rejected the easier path: of displaying the bare macabre that held sway over the camp for years. … That is the path of portraying facts, using for example wax figures, presenting whipping, pillories, bunker, executions by shooting and hanging, and even those suffocating in the gas chamber, and people dried up to skeletons. That, however, would have been against the assumption and the dignity of such a museum. A more difficult path was selected and required the collaboration of the visitor’s imagination. The path of meticulous documentation, statistical graphic charts, maps portraying the German plans concerning the expansion of the camp, and the exhibited dead objects that remain the only trace of living creatures. When in turn … we enter blocks 5 and 6 … providing the core of the collection … we stop dazzled, even though it is a shock we were prepared for. These rooms are the domain of an artist painter Tadeusz Myszkowski, one of the quiet and generous people working here. He has gone through an incredibly long, five-year’s term in the camp. … In the rooms, the bright light of the day is muffled with muslin curtains on the windows, the walls are of pigeon-grey colour, and the concrete posts supporting the ceiling were painted black, providing a perfect background for the mood, and toning down the collection placed within.

Source: Wanda Kragen, Obóz koncentracyjny przeobraża się w Muzeum, Robotnik, No. 160, 16 June 1947, p. 4.

Block 7 housed an exhibition of paintings by Jerzy Brandhuber, Mieczysław Kościelniak, and Tadeusz Myszkowski, who presented life in the camp on the grounds of their own experience.


In turn the conditions of inmates’ life in the camp in 1940 were reconstructed in Block 8, and in 1944, when they somewhat improved—in Block 9. Block 11 was retained in its original condition (except for the reconstruction of the so-called standing cells) and played the role of the mausoleum together with the adjacent yard.

No exhibition was designed for Birkenau. Visitors could see brick barracks in the former women’s camp (sector BI), the wooden barracks of the former pre-entry quarantine for men (sector BIIA), and—farther—the ruins of the crematoria and the locations of the cremation pits.


The exhibitions were positively approached by the visitors. The fact that while presenting the fate of the inmates and the mass killing the staff of the Museum avoided macabre representations was highly applauded. For example, no wax figures were used to demonstrate tortures, executions, consequences of murder in gas chambers, and impact of hunger. Instead, the illustration of individual questions consisted of documents, charts, and maps showing the intentions to develop the camp. The huge number of the objects that remained after their owners were murdered, made another powerful impression. The graphic aspect of the exhibitions, designed by a former inmate, artist painter Tadeusz Myszkowski was highly appreciated. The windows blinded with muslin curtains, walls in “pigeon-grey”, and columns supporting the ceiling painted black provided an appropriate setting for the display. The Exhibition in Block 4, prepared by Jewish organisations in the visual design of artist painter Beniamin Pacanowski was also estimeed.

From the press

The Museum has no captions or commentaries. This silence carries the most profound message. Facts speak for themselves. What are captions good for? On average, every toothbrush, every pair of shoes is one human life extinguished here. And there are heaps of them. Realism and discretion in the solutions applied in these incredible Museum halls that contain such a particular collection command the greatest accolade.


Source: Stanisław Stomma, Problem Oświęcimia, Tygodnik Powszechny Catholic weekly, No. 27, 6 July 1947, p. 2.

The exhibits gathered in the rooms of the museum-in-development dispirit the visitor and transport his psyche into the world of uncanny nightmare that was reality here for years. But this is not yet the essence. It is only a week reflection of that world, we are only beginning to understand anything, we are beginning to feel our way into it. A suggestion of that world only hardly begins to set in. The gates of that reality don’t open until Birkenau, where we’re looking down from the height of the guard tower at the city of barracks and a forest of chimneys remaining from the barracks that have been liquidated; and remain open when we walk the straight streets of these huge camps that are already covered with the soft carpet of grass, with the dancing heads of camomile, so peacefully blossoming here in great numbers.

Source: Stanisław Stomma, Problem Oświęcimia, Tygodnik Powszechny Catholic weekly, No. 27, 6 July 1947, p. 2.

In Birkenau … there stand barracks, sombre and inhuman. We take in the huge space of Birkenau from the guard tower over the entrance gate. On the right-hand side on the first plane there are 40 barracks to be preserved in their entirety as a memento, further behind them there is a forest of chimneys sticking up and reaching as far as the wall of the trees—remnants of … barracks. Barracks that are undamaged, at least from the outside, stand on the left-hand side of the road: the women’s camp. They are overgrown with lush vegetation, firm grass, nettle, weeds, camomile: high, lush, and strong, as if the marshy ground here took revenge for years of being barren and trampled when it only could have been no more than wasteland under the feet of thousands of tormented people—and now it vibrates with more fertile sap. And that greenery, that unbridled power of life, spreading all around somewhat deadens the ghastliness of this barrack-limited ‘space for life’; it deadens it as long as we remain outside.

The interior of a barrack corresponds most closely to that vision of hell and impossibility of life. … Let us populate those three-level bunk beds in our imagination, one over another, one immediately next to the other, with a crowd of dirty, hungry, diseased, and louse-ridden women, and the picture we have built belongs to nightmare. …

Source: Wanda Kragen, Obóz koncentracyjny przeobraża się w Muzeum, Robotnik, No. 160, 16 June 1947, p. 4.

The exhibition opened in the Museum also received positive comments of Jewish community, yet the display was considered temporary and only “the germ of the Museum of Jewish martyrdom”. In future, however, the Jewish exhibition was to be expanded and should present the murdering of Jews, not only of Auschwitz but also in Bełżec, Treblinka, Kulmhof, and Sobibór. However ambitious, these plans were not executed at the time in the suggested form. In turn, a memorial commemorating the murdered Jews, known as the “Stone of Martyrdom” was unveiled thanks to the effort of the Central Jewish Committee in Poland close to the ruins of Crematorium II in April 1948. It was the first monument commemorating the victims to be unveiled on the premises of the Museum.