Resolution on the renewal
In July 2009, in a move to implement Item 17 "Responsibility towards the victims of National Socialism" of the chapter "Art and Culture" of its governmental program, the Austrian Federal Government resolved to renew the "Austrian memorial" at the former concentration and extermination camp and present-day State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. It entrusted the National Fund with the planning and implementation of the entire project.
For years, people in Austria have been calling for the renewal of the 1978 exhibition, in the light of the knowledge of an appropriate culture of remembrance and in keeping with the times. The main body of criticism came from Austrian visitors to the National exhibition, but the Austrian Consulate General in Krakow also received complaints from abroad.
Above all, the main premise propagated by the exhibition "11 March 1938. Austria – First Victim of National Socialism", while glossing over the question of collaboration, was no longer defensible nor did it conform with Austria's official stance following the avowal in 1991 by Federal Chancellor Franz Vranitzky "of shared responsibility for the suffering that, although not inflicted by Austria as a nation, was indeed inflicted on other people and peoples by citizens of this country".
Other countries and institutions were also confronted with the necessity of adapting their national exhibitions to portray a view of history in keeping with the latest research. Over the last few years, Russia, Israel (Yad Vashem), Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have all renewed their exhibitions in the former inmate barracks. The museum itself is also currently working on a new permanent exhibition.
In the Year of Remembrance 2005, as a temporary solution a notice funded by the National Fund and worded in consensus with the Foreign Ministry was put up in the foyer of the Austrian exhibition. In January 2012, the text was updated to provide information on the ongoing process of renewal.
You can find an overview of the development of the exhibitions at the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau here.
Chronological overview of the exhibitions at the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
|1947||Establishment of the museum|
|1947||First permanent exhibition|
|1950||Expansion of the permanent exhibition|
|1955||New permanent exhibition (partially preserved today)|
|1960||First national exhibitions|
|1960||Opening of the CSSR national exhibition|
|1960||Opening of the Hungarian national exhibition|
|1961||Opening of the Soviet Union's national exhibition|
|1961||Opening of the GDR's national exhibition|
|1965||Opening of the Belgian national exhibition|
|1967;||Unveiling of the first international memorial at Birkenau|
|1968||Opeining of the first exhibition on the fate of European Jewry|
|1968||Opening of the Danish national exhibition|
|1970||Opening of the GDR's updated national exhibition|
|1970||Opening of the updated Hungarian national exhibition|
|1977||Opening of the Bulgarian national exhibition|
|1978||Opening of the Austrian national exhibition|
|1978||Opening of the updated exhibition on the fate of European Jewry|
|1979||Opening of the French national exhibition|
|1979||Visit to the memorial by Pope John Paul II|
|1979||Museum added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites|
|1980||Opening of the Italian national exhibition|
|1980||Opening of the Dutch national exhibition|
|1980||Opening of the updated Hungarian national exhibition|
|1985||Opening of the Soviet Union's updated national exhibition|
|1985||Opening of the Polish national exhibition|
|1993||"The Future of Auschwitz". International conference on the preservation of the memorial site|
|1990s||Closure of national exhibitions: GDR, Denmark, Bulgaria|
|2000s||Closure of the National exhibition of the Soviet Union|
|2001||New concept for the national exhibitions|
|2001||Opening of the Roma-Sinti exhibition|
|2002||Opening of the Czech national exhibition|
|2002||Opening of the Slovakian national exhibition|
|2004||Opening of the new Hungarian national exhibition|
|2005||Opening of the new Dutch national exhibtion|
|2005||Opening of the new French national exhibtion|
|2005||Placard with information on the changed view of Austria's history put up at Austria's national exhibition|
|2006||Opening of the new Belgian national exhibtion|
|2009||Establishment of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation for the preservation of the memorial|
|2009||Closure of the National exhibition of Yugoslavia|
|2010s||Closure of the Italian national exhibtion|
|2013||Placard with information on the exhibition's renewal put up at Austria's national exhibition|
|2013||Opening of the Russian national exhibtion|
|2013||Opeining of the new exhibition on the fate of European Jewry|
|2013||Closure of the Austrian national exhibition|
Source: National Fund, Auschwitz.org
The National Fund is responsible for contracting all services necessary for realizing all aspects of the renewal and reaches decisions in consultation with the project's Steering Committee. In addition to side-projects such as the development of an exhibition website and the publication of a book documenting the previous exhibition, its main tasks are overseeing the development of the new exhibition and the renovation of the former inmate barracks of Block 17 in which the exhibition will be housed.
Besides the funding and coordination provided by the National Fund, a series of public institutions are also contributing financial and administrative support to the renewal project: the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria, the Federal Ministry of Education and Women, the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and the Economy, the Federal Ministry of Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Provinces.
In order to ensure that the new exhibition is of an academically high standard and to safeguard the interests of the social and political groups affected, the project is being accompanied by an Academic Advisory Board and a Societal Advisory Board.
Work on new exhibition
The new exhibition will portray the fate of the Austrian victims at Auschwitz, the resistance put up by Austrian inmates and the involvement of Austrians as collaborators and perpetrators of the crimes committed there.
Following a Europe-wide call to tender, since April 2014 a team of curators and academics led by Hannes Sulzenbacher has been developing the contents of the exhibition.
The design of the exhibition was also subject of a Europe-wide call to tender in autumn 2014 with the successful applicant being selected by an expert Board of Appraisal.
Both the content of the exhibition and its design must be endorsed by the museum and the Auschwitz Council – an international committee comprising victims groups and experts.
In addition, an exhibition website is planned in order that the exhibition may resonate beyond the walls in which it is contained. It will depict the exhibition and provide additional information and updates to the content that is offered on site.
A further aspect to be addressed within the scope of the renewal was how to deal with the previous exhibition of 1978. In October 2013, the National Fund dismantled and archived the exhibition. A publication documenting and reflecting on the previous exhibition was published in 2015, with photos, texts and interviews paying tribute to it.
The ongoing work, such as the development of the contents of the exhibition, its visual implementation and the renovation of the building demand great care and sensitivity and are being undertaken in the knowledge that at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial – probably the most important place of remembrance of all for those persecuted and murdered under National Socialism – the Republic of Austria should be represented by a fitting exhibition which is also in keeping with the latest historical findings.
In addition to the discourse surrounding a responsible approach to Austria's past by involving the advisory boards in the renewal process, the National Fund, in its role as Coordinating Office for the renewal, has in its contractual partner, the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, an institution at its side which takes its important role as a memorial very seriously. In the upcoming years, we must continue to successfully move forward with this domestic and bilateral process.
In view of the fact that all decisions relating to the project are taken in consensus with the project committees and then agreed on with the museum, a date cannot be set for its completion.