The State Museum at Majdanek was founded in November 1944 on the grounds of the former German concentration camp. It is an institution directly subordinated to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. In addition to organizing exhibitions, the museum also runs educational and academic activities. Since 2004 there has also been a non-local branch of Majdanek – Museum and Memorial Site in Bełżec and since 2012 – Museum and Memorial Site in Sobibór.
The mission of the Museum is to cultivate the memory and promote historical education about the German occupation in the Lublin region during World War II, particularly by means of commemorating the victims, preserving the relics and documenting the history of the concentration camp at Majdanek and the death camps in Bełżec and Sobibór.
The State Museum at Majdanek was established at the site of the former German concentration camp which functioned on the outskirts of Lublin between October 1941 and July 1944. It was opened in November 1944 and was the first museum devoted to the commemoration of the victims of World War II in Europe.
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.
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. In 1965, the first results of these studies were published in the form of the first volume of “Zeszyty Majdanka” [Majdanek Papers]. Simultaneously, the subsequent stage of Majdanek zoning plan was implemented with the construction of the Monument to Struggle and Martyrdom – currently one of the most recognizable landmarks in Lublin.
The organized competitions for memoirs and mementos from the occupation period allowed the institution to establish valuable contacts with former Majdanek prisoners. In the 1970s and 80s, they frequently participated in scientific sessions organized by the Museum and devoted to the history of the camp and the German occupation of Lublin. At the time, first witness accounts were also recorded. One of the most popular initiatives in that period involved exhibitions of modern painting and graphic arts organized by the Museum between 1983 and 2004 as part of the International Triennale of Art.
In early 2021 the Museum released the new monograph of the Majdanek camp – "The Prisoners of KL Lublin 1941–1944" which constitutes a synthesis of its history which focuses on the most numerous groups of prisoners: Poles, Jews, deportees from the former Soviet Union territories, and the citizens of the southern and western European countries. For over a dozen years now, the research done at the Museum has been focused not only on the history of KL Lublin itself, but also museology, in particular education and sites of remembrance. The interest of its historians has also extended to issues related to the overall extermination of Jews in the General Government, particularly after the Museum at Majdanek took over the maintenance of the former death camp sites in Bełżec (in 2004) and Sobibór (2012). Exhibitions organised in recent years, most notably the “Prisoners of Majdanek” presented in barracks no. 62 - the former camp shoemaker's workshop and the first Museum office space, the outdoor exhibition "The Extermination of Jews in the German Operation Reinhardt” as well as the biographic exposition devoted to the Polish prisoner and founder of the women's infirmary at Majdanek - "Stefania Perzanowska. Doctor from Majdanek" reflected those themes in their presentation of the Museum’s collections.
In recent years, the Museum’s efforts have been particularly marked by work related to the modernization and extension of its current outdoor expositions, as well as renovation of the visitor infrastructure.
To date, in the nearly 80 years of its existence, the Museum has been visited by over 10 million people.