The Auschwitz Memorial is more than extensive grounds and original camp blocks, barracks, and guard towers. It is also tens of thousands of objects of a special nature, special meaning, and special symbolism.
• Above all, it is the personal possessions brought by deportees and found at the site after liberation. They make up a unique collection of items connected with the suffering of the people deported to Auschwitz to be killed immediately, and with those forced into slave labor by the Germans.
• It is also the objects connected with the life of prisoners inthe camp, which bear testimony not only to the primitive living and hygienic conditions and starvation, but also with attempts to preserve humanity behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz.
• The Museum collections also contain objects connected with the SS garrison, the perpetrators of the crime.
The nature of the collections
The Museum collections include:
• about 110 thousand shoes;
• about 3,800 suitcases, 2,100 of which bear the names of their owners;
• over 12 thousand kitchen utensils;
• 470 prostheses and orthoses;
• 350 striped camp garments;
• 250 tallisim;
• about 4,500 works of art (including about 2 thousand of which were made by prisoners).
The deepest symbolic meaning resides in the personal effects of the people, mostly Jews, brought to Auschwitz by the Germans from all over occupied Europe for the purpose of being killed. There are thousands of items of everyday life such as kitchen utensils, shoes, eyeglasses, shoe-polish containers, brushes, and combs. They bear witness not only to the scale of the plunder carried out by the Germans, but also to the suffering and death of their owners. Suitcases with names, birth dates, transport numbers, and addresses have important documentary value and are often the only proof that a given person was deported to Auschwitz.
Camp and Prisoner Items
Another group of original items from the camp consists of striped prisoner garments, wooden clogs and bowls, and furnishings and other items from the blocks and barracks that housed the prisoners. They document the everyday existence of the prisoners, illustrate the phenomena of resistance and mutual aid, and show how prisoners tried to inform the outside world about the crimes being committed in the camp.
The collections also include items left behind by the perpetrators, such as helmets and boots. There are also instruments used by the SS to inflict misery on the prisoners: whips, clubs used for beating, and the “goat” used during flogging. Many of the items reflect the level of detail that characterized the planning and organization of the camp bureaucracy. These include notice boards for announcements, statistics, and record keeping. There are also items in the Museum collections that constitute evidence of the crimes connected directly with the Holocaust, such as the canisters that contained the Zyklon-B used to kill people in the gas chambers.