Artefacts on Loan from Auschwitz a Reminder of the Atrocities of the Holocaust

Artefacts on Loan from Auschwitz a Reminder of the Atrocities of the Holocaust

24 September 2019

Next year will mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz; the epicentre of Nazi activity during the Holocaust. However, recent studies conducted in the United States, Europe and New Zealand show that a significant proportion of the younger generations know little or nothing about the Holocaust. In fact, two thirds of American millennials surveyed last year didn’t know what Auschwitz was. At a time when consciousness of Auschwitz is fading and survivors and eyewitnesses are ageing and passing away, exposure to the evidence of the history of the Holocaust is crucial.

This week, a loan of twelve artefacts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum will go on display in the permanent Holocaust exhibition at Darlinghurst’s Sydney Jewish Museum. These historic objects are sourced directly from the site of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Poland. These items were found amongst the piles of personal artefacts on the site after the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945.

The items on display include inmates’ possessions such as a suitcase, toothbrush, hairbrush and a pair of glasses. Also on display are items like a Zyklon B canister and a whip. All of these items provide evidence of the Nazi perpetrators’ crimes and their hand in the mass murder that was undertaken at Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II. The Museum hopes these historical remnants will fill gaps in the knowledge of Australians to Holocaust history, providing powerful starting points for talking about and understanding experiences of deportation, dispossession and murder.

The Sydney Jewish Museum has a collection of over 12,000 artefacts. Amongst the Holocaust collection are humble items made, retained or salvaged by Holocaust survivors who moved to Australia after the war. Due to the nature of their donors, few collection items are evidence of the objects stolen or confiscated from Jewish inmates upon their arrival at Nazi concentration and death camps.

The Museum’s Resident Historian, Emeritus Professor Konrad Kwiet, explains that Auschwitz was the epicentre of the Holocaust:

“Auschwitz-Birkenau, built in the occupied Polish town of Oswiecim, became the site of the largest single mass murder in history. Initially used to incarcerate Polish political opponents and Russian POWs, the camp expanded during the war to encompass three major centres — Auschwitz I, Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and Buna Monowitz (Auschwitz III). As a slave-labour and extermination camp, Auschwitz embodied all aspects of the Nazi camp system. In its four years of operation, approximately 1.3 million people were murdered at this site, of which 1.1 million were Jewish.”

The Museum’s Head Curator, Roslyn Sugarman, points out the significance of these objects:

“One suitcase bears witness to the large-scale plunder of personal possessions and the murder of their owners; one Zyklon B cannister is a sinister and direct connection to the killing process, evidence of murder on an unprecedented scale. As the years pass, and survivors are no longer in the museum to talk about their experiences, the need to display artefacts from the death camps becomes more imperative as these objects evoke the history and the memory of the Holocaust.”