The Permanent Exhibition in Auschwitz

(Foto Lossen)

On 2 August 2001, a permanent exhibition on the genocide perpetrated on the Sinti and Roma by the National Socialists was opened to the public at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The exhibition was initiated and created by the Documentation and Cultural Centre, which exercised overall control, in close co-operation with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, the Association of Roma in Poland and Roma organisations from six other countries.

The exhibition, which can be seen in Block 13 of the former main camp, is subdivided into three main subject areas:

The first of these documents the way the National Socialists progressively excluded the German Sinti and Roma from society and deprived them of their rights. It traces developments from the moment the Nazis took power to the start of the Second World War and the first deportations to German-occupied Poland.

The second part of the exhibition focuses on the genocide against the Sinti and Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. Although the Nazis' extermination policy rarely varied, the exhibition tries to show the specific forms that persecution assumed throughout the countries occupied by and allied to Nazi Germany. Our historical research with Roma organizations from many different countries uncovered countless new sources, including a great number of contemporary private photographs. These reveal the European dimension of the genocide perpetrated on the Sinti and Roma. In the past, too little attention has been given to this aspect.

The third section approaches the history of the Auschwitz-Birkenau "Gypsy camp" from different perspectives. Following Himmler's Auschwitz Decree on 16 December 1942, 23,000 members of the Sinti and Roma minority were deported to Auschwitz from the Reich and nearly every single occupied country.

(Foto Lossen)

For almost all these people, Auschwitz was the final stage of years of torment. With the aid of reports from survivors, family photos of people deported to Auschwitz and the source material from the archives of Auschwitz Museum we have been able to document in detail the crimes committed at this former centre of persecution. Here, as in the permanent exhibition in Heidelberg, great importance has been attached to giving the victims a face. The photographs, documents and reports compiled by the perpetrators - testimonies of terror and industrially executed extermination - are contrasted with the biographies of the victims and the perspectives of those who were personally affected. This approach allows visitors to reflect critically upon the hostile and distorted images of the "Gypsies" presented by the Nazis. 

A completely new artistic concept was developed for the new exhibition in Auschwitz in co-operation with designer Wieland Schmid (who has been responsible for a number of exhibitions at the Centre). Schmid's design aims to stimulate reflection on the historical site itself.