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75 years of the State Museum at Majdanek

1944-1949

In the first years of its operation, the Museum’s efforts focused on the preservation and reconstruction of historical objects as well as locating and cataloguing the surviving camp documentation. In 1945, the first permanent exhibition was opened. The first Week of Majdanek was also organized at the time, initially intended as commemoration of KL Lublin victims, but later taking the form of anti-war rallies largely subordinated to official propaganda policies. Efforts also begun to implement the first zoning plan for the Museum, which involved preservation of the victims’ ashes.

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  • Zoom image: Barracks no. 62 - the first seat of the Museum
  • Zoom image: Museum employees in the carpenter's shop
  • Zoom image: Poster informing on the Museum first temporary exhibition, 1944
  • Zoom image: Museum typists at work
  • Zoom image: Holy Mass at Majdanek, 1945
  • Zoom image: A list of the first employees of the Museum
  • Zoom image: Museum employees, an opening part of the first permanent exhibition in the background, 1945
  • Zoom image: Wax figures of prisoners, 1945
  • Zoom image: Inauguration of the first Week of Majdanek, 1945
  • Zoom image: Holy Mass at Majdanek, 1946
  • Zoom image: Former Majdanek prisoners during commemoration ceremony, 1946
  • Zoom image: Fr. Stefan Wyszyński near the ashes of the Majdanek victims, 1946
  • Zoom image: Fragment of an exhibition devoted to Jewish prisoners of Majdanek, 1946
  • Zoom image: Signing an erection act for the mound with ashes of the Majdanek victims, 1947
  • Zoom image: Planting trees at the Museum, 1948
  • Zoom image: Mound with ashes of the victims, 1949
  • Zoom image: Sorting the achival files
  • Zoom image: Afforested prisoners' field no. 1, mid-50's
  • Show larger image above: Barracks no. 62 - the first seat of the Museum
  • Show larger image above: Museum employees in the carpenter's shop
  • Show larger image above: Poster informing on the Museum first temporary exhibition, 1944
  • Show larger image above: Museum typists at work
  • Show larger image above: Holy Mass at Majdanek, 1945
  • Show larger image above: A list of the first employees of the Museum
  • Show larger image above: Museum employees, an opening part of the first permanent exhibition in the background, 1945
  • Show larger image above: Wax figures of prisoners, 1945
  • Show larger image above: Inauguration of the first Week of Majdanek, 1945
  • Show larger image above: Holy Mass at Majdanek, 1946
  • Show larger image above: Former Majdanek prisoners during commemoration ceremony, 1946
  • Show larger image above: Fr. Stefan Wyszyński near the ashes of the Majdanek victims, 1946
  • Show larger image above: Fragment of an exhibition devoted to Jewish prisoners of Majdanek, 1946
  • Show larger image above: Signing an erection act for the mound with ashes of the Majdanek victims, 1947
  • Show larger image above: Planting trees at the Museum, 1948
  • Show larger image above: Mound with ashes of the victims, 1949
  • Show larger image above: Sorting the achival files
  • Show larger image above: Afforested prisoners' field no. 1, mid-50's

Highlights 1944-1949

Establishing the State Museum at Majdanek – 1944

The State Museum at Majdanek was opened in November 1944. The main task of the institution, which director was Antoni Ferski, was to secure objects and documents proving the crimes committed in the concentration camp, as well as their inventory and research studies. From the very beginning it was attempted to popularize knowledge about Majdanek. At first, only barracks no. 62 and crematory building were parts of the Museum. The other buildings were occupied by the military. There were 40 people employed in the State Museum at Majdanek in December 1944.


The first permanent museum exhibition – 1945

On the September 2nd, 1945, an opening of the first ever historical exhibition at Majdanek took place. The exhibition consisted of pictures, plans, documents and camp relicts. According to Antoni Ferski, this exhibition was supposed to trigger strong emotions in visitors, which is why the important elements were wax figures depicting the exhausted camp prisoners. In the letter sent to deputy commander of Polish Army, politics specialist, General Aleksander Zawadzki, the author of the exhibition wrote: ‘this kind of scenes depicting life in the camp […] will illustrate the magnitude of fear and terror reigning in the Majdanek concentration camp. The visitors will experience the horror of a stay in the camp […]’ The exhibition located in barracks no. 62 (former shoemaker’s workshop) was complemented by gas chambers, crematory, execution pits and barracks with mass exhibits.


The act on commemoration of martyrdom of Polish and other nations at Majdanek – 1947

Almost three years after opening the State Museum at Majdanek, on July 2nd, 1947, an act authorizing its functioning was adopted. In accordance with the act, the Museum was entrusted with the tasks consisting of ‘collecting and gathering evidence and materials concerning Nazi crimes, sharing it with the society and scientifically elaborating them.’


Making a mound out of the victims’ ashes – 1947

One of the most important tasks for the newly opened museum was the necessity to clean up the heaps of land mixed with victims’ remains scattered all around the camp and commemorating them with dignity. The place where the mound was to raise was marked out near the crematory behind the fifth prisoners’ field. Works on collecting the remains lasted from May 14th to August 23rd. 5056 people helped in it – mainly school pupils, military men and representatives of Lublin’s work establishments. As a result, a mound of 16x32 m width and 7 m height was made. It existed until September 10th, 1968, when construction of a new commemoration place began.


Forestation of Museum’s area – 1948

One of the elements of the Museum’s first spatial planning, which construction began in 1947, was forestation of the first, second, fourth and partially fifth prisoners’ fields. As a part of the plan gas chambers, crematories, baths and guard towers were renovated residential barracks were disassembled, leaving only these on the third prisoners’ field, and exhibition pavilions were created in warehouse barracks and workshops. 80,000 trees were to be planted – mainly oaks and birch-trees. This was a way to build a symbolic cemetery – a park of commemoration, which is a reference to the Slavic idea of a sacred grove. In spring 1948 the work on planting the trees started. After few years it turned out that the ever-growing trees started to cover the camp complex and neutralize the tragedy connected to this place. The decision to clear the trees was made in 1960’ when the second spatial plan of the Museum was in the works.

1950-1959

The 1950s were marked by intensive popularization efforts involving numerous lectures and traveling exhibitions. Preliminary archival research was also initiated as a basis for future extensive scientific research in the 1960s and onwards.

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  • Zoom image: Museum seal with the national emblem
  • Zoom image: Historical exhibition of 1954
  • Zoom image: Historical exhibition of 1954
  • Zoom image: Historical exhibition of 1954
  • Zoom image: Part of ideological exhibition "Fight for Peace," 1953
  • Zoom image: The touring exhibition "Majdanek Accuses and Warns"
  • Zoom image: The touring exhibition "Majdanek Accuses and Warns"
  • Show larger image above: Museum seal with the national emblem
  • Show larger image above: Historical exhibition of 1954
  • Show larger image above: Historical exhibition of 1954
  • Show larger image above: Historical exhibition of 1954
  • Show larger image above: Part of ideological exhibition "Fight for Peace," 1953
  • Show larger image above: The touring exhibition "Majdanek Accuses and Warns"
  • Show larger image above: The touring exhibition "Majdanek Accuses and Warns"

Highlights 1950-1959

Granting Museum a statute - 1950

On January 17, 1950, the directive of the Minister of Culture and Art regarding the Museum statute was published. It defined in detail the tasks carried out by the institution. In addition to activities related directly to the collection, development and sharing of objects and documents related to Nazi crimes committed in the Majdanek camp, it also included the following points: "establishing and maintaining a cemetery park on designated areas" and "arrangement and development of the Museum's economic part in order to achieve self-sufficiency in supplying park areas with seedlings of trees, shrubs, flowers, etc. "


The second permanent exhibition - 1954

The preparation of the next historical exhibition took several years. The exhibition was opened on July 22, 1954, in connection with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of People‘s Republic of Poland, but it had already been made available to visitors in stages. The exhibition was arranged in 11 barracks of the former economic part of the camp. In 9 of them, the history of Majdanek was presented – the system of German concentration camps, living conditions in KL Lublin (concentration camp), work, property plunder and mass extermination were described. The shoes found in the camp were also shown. The remaining barracks housed exhibitions titled "Genocide Sources" and "Fight for Peace," on which political and ideological references dominated.


The touring exhibition "Majdanek Accuses and Warns" - 1959

One of the most important forms of popularizing activity conducted by the Museum outside its premises was the organization of touring exhibitions. Particularly interesting was the exhibition entitled "Majdanek Accuses and Warns" which attracted over 200,000 people. Prepared on the basis of the scenario by Edward Dziadosz and Edward Gryń, it was a monographic exhibition about Majdanek that took into account the most important aspects of the camp's operation. It was presented in the years 1959-1966 in many Polish cities and the USSR. It was accompanied by a series of readings and large-scale promotional activities.

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