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 passed a resolution to renew the Austrian memorial at the former concentration and extermination camp and present-day State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. The National Fund was entrusted with the planning and implementation of the entire project.
For years, people in Austria had been calling for the 1978 exhibition to be renewed in keeping with the latest findings on an appropriate culture of remembrance. 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”, which also glossed over the question of collaboration, no longer conformed with Austria’s official stance following Federal Chancellor Franz Vranitzky’s 1991 avowal 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 also needed to adapt their national exhibitions to portray a view of history that was 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 renewal process.
Chronological overview of the exhibitions at the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
|Establishment of the museum
|First permanent exhibition
|Expansion of the permanent exhibition
|New permanent exhibition (partially preserved today)
|First national exhibitions
|Opening of the CSSR national exhibition
|Opening of the Hungarian national exhibition
|Opening of the Soviet Union's national exhibition
|Opening of the GDR's national exhibition
|Opening of the Belgian national exhibition
|Unveiling of the first international memorial at Birkenau
|Opeining of the first exhibition on the fate of European Jewry
|Opening of the Danish national exhibition
|Opening of the GDR's updated national exhibition
|Opening of the updated Hungarian national exhibition
|Opening of the Bulgarian national exhibition
|Opening of the Austrian national exhibition
|Opening of the updated exhibition on the fate of European Jewry
|Opening of the French national exhibition
|Visit to the memorial by Pope John Paul II
|Museum added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites
|Opening of the Italian national exhibition
|Opening of the Dutch national exhibition
|Opening of the updated Hungarian national exhibition
|Opening of the Soviet Union's updated national exhibition
|Opening of the Polish national exhibition
|"The Future of Auschwitz". International conference on the preservation of the memorial site
|Closure of national exhibitions: GDR, Denmark, Bulgaria
|Closure of the National exhibition of the Soviet Union
|New concept for the national exhibitions
|Opening of the Roma-Sinti exhibition
|Opening of the Czech national exhibition
|Opening of the Slovakian national exhibition
|Opening of the new Hungarian national exhibition
|Opening of the new Dutch national exhibtion
|Opening of the new French national exhibtion
|Placard with information on the changed view of Austria's history put up at Austria's national exhibition
|Opening of the new Belgian national exhibtion
|Establishment of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation for the preservation of the memorial
|Closure of the National exhibition of Yugoslavia
|Closure of the Italian national exhibtion
|Placard with information on the exhibition's renewal put up at Austria's national exhibition
|Opening of the Russian national exhibtion
|Opeining of the new exhibition on the fate of European Jewry
|Closure of the Austrian national exhibition
Source: National Fund, Auschwitz.org
The National Fund was responsible for contracting the necessary services for all aspects of the renewal. It reached its decisions in consultation with the project’s Steering Committee. In addition to companion projects such as the development of an exhibition website and the publication of a book documenting the previous exhibition, its main tasks were to oversee 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 also contributed financial and administrative support to the renewal project: the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria, the National Fund, the Federal Changellery, Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, the Concentration Camp Memorial Mauthausen (previously the Federal Ministry of the Interior), the federal provinces and the Austrian Castle and Fortress Authority.
In order to ensure that the new exhibition is of an high scientific standard and to safeguard the interests of the social and political groups affected, the project was supervised by an Academic Advisory Board and a Societal Advisory Board.
The development of the new exhibition
The new exhibition was to portray the fate of the Austrian victims at Auschwitz, the resistance put up by Austrian inmates and the involvement of Austrians as accessories to and perpetrators of the crimes committed there.
Following a pan-European call to tender, from April 2014 a team of curators and academics led by Hannes Sulzenbacher worked on developing the contents of the exhibition.
The exhibition design was also put out to tender across Europe in autumn 2014, and the Viennese architect Martin Kohlbauer was selected by the expert evaluation commission. He was commissioned to design the exhibition in March 2015.
Both the content of the exhibition and the exhibition design had to be endorsed by the museum and the Auschwitz Council – an international committee comprising victims’ groups and experts.
A website was developed to accompany the exhibition and extend its reach beyond the exhibition space. It contains information on the contents of the exhibition, in-depth texts, databases and biographies of both Austrians imprisoned and murdered in Auschwitz and Austrian perpetrators.
A further aspect that had to be addressed within the scope of the renewal was the previous exhibition of 1978 and how to deal with it. In October 2013, it was dismantled and archived by the National Fund. A publication documenting and reflecting on the previous exhibition was published in 2015. It contains photos, texts and interviews in tribute to the exhibition.
The development of the exhibition’s contents, its visual implementation and the renovation of the building required a high degree of care and sensitivity. They were c in the awareness that the Republic of Austria should be represented at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial – probably the foremost place of remembrance of all for those persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime – by a fitting exhibition that is also in keeping with the latest historical findings.
In addition to the discourse surrounding a responsible approach to Austria’s past through the involvement of the advisory boards in the renewal process, the National Fund as Coordination Office for the renewal had in its contractual partner, the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, an institution at its side which takes its important role as a memorial very seriously. While the exhibition was being developed it was important to move forward successfully with this domestic and bilateral process.
All decisions relating to the project were taken in consensus with the project committees and then agreed on with the museum.
On 4 October 2021 the exhibition was opened with a ceremony attended by the Austrian President and leading members of government.