A New Braille Guidebook to the Museum. There are two new versions of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum guidebook: one in Braille for the blind and the other in large type for the partially sighted. The Museum makes both publications available free of charge. The project was designed at the Educational Center for Blind and Partially Sighted Children in Cracow.
"This is something completely new, and especially important in the educational process. Learning in advance about the history of Auschwitz and the location of various buildings is very valuable. Until now, everything was presented orally, and all we could do was talk to the blind about the things in the Museum," said Barbara Planta, director of the Cracow center.
The biggest problem in preparing the new Braille version of the guidebook was finding a way to present a map of the camp in a way that would be legible for the blind. This is where assistance by Leszek Ogórek, a teacher at the Cracow center who specializes in preparing educational diagrams for the blind, proved invaluable.
"The main thing for me was presenting the enormous scale of the place, and not a precise orientation map. One of the principles in preparing diagrams for the blind is to keep them as simple as possible. Intersecting lines, for instance, can be problematic. The drawing of the Auschwitz I-Main Camp is legible because it's not very big, but the Birkenau camp was so enormous that it's very difficult to include all the details in such a map. The great number of buildings there was a problem, for instance. I wanted to show the vastness of the camp and the overwhelming nature of that space," said Ogórek.
"The map is precise and there's a lot of information here. A guidebook like this will be a big help for us. You can learn a lot from it, and it will give blind people who have never been in this place before an idea of the history and appearance of the camp. If someone goes there, they'll have a much deeper experience of the visit," said Przemek Kielar, a blind second-year student in the vocational school course for piano tuners.
The Auschwitz Museum is one of the first in Poland to issue a guidebook for the blind. Barbara Planta feels that this could be a spur for other institutions to follow suit. "More and more is going on in this area. We are in touch with many cultural institutions. In some cases, the institutions themselves make proposals to us, such as the National Museum in Cracow."
The guidebook is the first step in adapting the Auschwitz Museum for the blind. Plans for the new main exhibition also take their needs into account. In the future, a large model of the grounds of the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, cast in bronze, will help the blind to imagine the spatial dimensions of the Memorial. There will also be an information system using the Braille alphabet. "We're very grateful that the Museum has decided to take into account the needs of people with visual dysfunctions in the process of adapting the Museum," said Planta.