Auschwitz Museum Exhibits

Block 15 barrack building now houses Museum exhibits

The visitors' tour of the main Auschwitz camp begins in Block 15, shown in the photo above, which houses an exhibit entitled Historical Introduction. The building is located at the corner of the first intersection of camp streets after you pass the camp kitchen near the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate, which is behind the camera on the left. Organized groups begin their tour of the museum buildings here and then move on to Blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7 which are in the last row of barracks buildings.

Blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7 at the former Auschwitz I concentration camp have been converted from barracks into museum rooms with glass display cases. All of these exhibit buildings are located on the second cross street, to your right after you enter through the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate. At the end of this street is Block 11, the prison block which is open to visitors.

In Block 5, there are displays devoted to the "Material Evidence of Crime." One of the saddest sights at Auschwitz is the display of shoes in a huge glass case that takes up half a barracks room in Block 5. The shoes seem to be deteriorating and are mostly the same dark gray color, except for a few women's or children's shoes that are made of red leather. The red shoes stand out like the red coat worn by the little girl in Schindler's List, a black and white picture.

Shoes in display case in Block 5 at Auschwitz Museum

When the Soviet Union liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945, there were 43,000 pairs of shoes in the camp. The photo below shows the shoes found in a warehouse.

Shoes and clothing of prisoners found at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photo Credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Theatergebäude (theater building) which is located just outside the Auschwitz main camp, was used as a clothing warehouse and it was stuffed full when the camp was liberated. All but six of the clothing warehouse buildings at Birkenau had been set on fire when the camp was abandoned by the Nazis on January 18, 1945 and the buildings were still burning when the Soviet liberators arrived on January 27, 1945.

There is a large display case in Block 5, taking up half of a barracks room, which contains the suitcases brought by Jewish victims to the camp. The Jews were instructed to mark their suitcases for later identification; you can still see the names written on the leather cases in large letters in the photo below. On some of the suitcases is the word Waisenkind, which means orphan; this is proof that there were children among the victims at Auschwitz.

Display case of suitcases used by the victims

The leather suitcases have not deteriorated like the shoes, which probably means that the shoes were disinfected with Zyklon-B in preparation for sending them back to Germany, but the suitcases weren't. There are also some baskets in this display, used by the victims to carry their meager belongings with them to the camp.

Another display case in Room 5 of Block 5, pictured below, is filled with the artificial legs and crutches which were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps by incoming prisoners. My tour guide in 1998 explained that the wounded Polish war veterans from World War I accounted for most of this huge collection.

Collection of artificial limbs worn by victims at Auschwitz I

Block 4 has exhibits entitled "Extermination." Holocaust historians define the German noun Ausrottung to mean extermination. Among the exhibits in Block 4 is a model of one of the gas chambers at Birkenau, which was used to "exterminate" the Jews.

In a speech on October 6, 1943 at Poznan, Poland, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler used the German verb auszurotten and defined the word to make his meaning clear: "Ich hielt mich nämlich nicht für berechtigt, die Männer auszurotten - sprich also, umzubringen oder umbringen zu lassen - und die Rächer in Gestalt der Kinder für unsere Söhne und Enkel groß werden zu lassen. Es mußte der schwere Entschluß gefaßt werden, dieses Volk von der Erde verschwinden zu lassen."

Holocaust historians have translated Himmler's words as follows: "I decided to find a clear solution here as well. I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men - that is, to kill them or have them killed - and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be taken to make this people disappear from the earth."

In Room 5 of Block 4, there is a huge glass display case, about the size of a walk-in closet, filled with hair cut from the heads of an estimated 140,000 victims. The hair appears to be deteriorating badly, and most of it has turned the same shade of dark gray. This is a truly disgusting sight and one that a visitor won't soon forget.

Human hair in display case at Auschwitz

Photo Credit: Lukasz Trzcinski

According to a Museum guide book, entitled "Auschwitz 1940 - 1945," which was first published in 1995, the Soviet Army found about 7,000 kilograms of human hair, packed in paper bags, when they liberated the camp. This was only a fraction of the hair cut from the heads of the Jews at Auschwitz; the rest of the hair had been sent to the Alex Zink company in Bavaria to be made into various products. Prisoners in all the Nazi concentration camps, who were selected for work, had all their body hair removed immediately upon arrival, in an effort to prevent typhus, which is spread by body lice.

The following quote is from the book "Auschwitz 1940 - 1945":

The analysis of the hair found in the camp, made by the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Crackow, is given below:

"Analysis of hair has shown the presence of hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous ingredient proper to compounds known as cyclons."

Human hair does not normally deteriorate with age. Auschwitz survivors say that the hair in the large glass display case was cut from the heads of the victims after they were killed with Zyklon-B in the gas chambers. According to Holocaust historians, this display is evidence that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.

The picture below shows a glass display case in Block 4. There is a little bit of hair, including some that is braided, and two bolts of cloth that were made from hair combined with other material, according to my tour guide.

Bolt of cloth and human hair on display at Auschwitz I

The exhibits in Block 6 are about the "Everyday Life of the Prisoner." Included in the exhibits are some of the enamelware dishes brought to the camps by the victims, as well as display cases of eyeglasses, brushes and even a display of the lids from cold cream jars and flat cans of shoe shine wax. There is a glass case with moth-eaten baby sweaters and another with Jewish prayer shawls which are old and worn and have been extensively darned and patched.

One of the exhibits in Block 6 shows the blue and gray striped uniforms worn by the prisoners. Another display in Block 6 shows a typical day's ration of food: a chunk of coarse whole grain bread the size of four thick slices and a large, red enamel bowl of gray looking soup. This is real food which was put into a glass case where it is deteriorating like the other displays. The sickening effect of all this is overwhelming.

The infamous Auschwitz swimming pool is located directly behind Block 6, but it was not on the tour when I visited in 2005. The pool was for the use of the Polish political prisoners, not for the Jews.

In Block 7 there are exhibits about the "Living and Sanitary Conditions" in the former concentration camp. In this building, there are three-tiered bunk beds like the ones in the barracks at Birkenau.

Pictured below is a stove used for heating the barracks while the camp was in operation. Several of the display barracks have stoves just like this, which have been left in the buildings. This is the European version of the pot-bellied stove, except that it is rectangular and covered with ceramic tile. The floors in the barracks are made of concrete; all of the barracks buildings have double-paned casement windows, as shown in the second photo below. The stairs are of granite, worn down by the footsteps of the millions of visitors who have walked on them over the years.

Porcelain covered stove used to heat barracks in Auschwitz I

Double-paned casement window in barrack

There is an extensive display of artwork, mostly done by survivors who created pictures based on their memory of events in the camp. Pictured below is a drawing of two escaped prisoners who have been captured and brought back to the camp. They are being forced to stand beneath a sign, written in German, which when translated into English says "Hurrah, we're back."

Artwork done after the war by Auschwitz survivor

According to a book which I purchased at the museum store, there was an art museum established at Auschwitz I in 1941 by Commandant Rudolph Höss at the suggestion of a Polish political prisoner. Prisoners were encouraged to create works of art, just as at the Majdanek camp. I did not see any of this officially sanctioned prisoner artwork on my visit to the museum in 1998, unlike Majdanek where many drawings, woodcuts and sculpture were prominently displayed. According to the Auschwitz Museum web site, the kitchen building is being remodeled to display the art work done by the prisoners.

Block 27 has special displays about the Jewish prisoners; these displays were put up after the fall of Communism when the plight of the Jews in the camps was given more importance at the museum. The whole Auschwitz museum puts heavy emphasis on the resistance movement, and in keeping with this theme, there is a special section on the second floor which is devoted to the Jewish resistance to the Nazis, both inside the camp and on the outside. Jewish partisans fought with the Polish Home Army, known as the Armia Krajowa or Polish AK, and also organized resistance on their own.

In front of Block 27 is a small memorial stone to the Jews who were gassed; it is the only memorial specifically dedicated to the Jews in all of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most of the Jews were sent to Auschwitz II, otherwise known as Birkenau, which had enough barracks space to house between 90,000 to 200,000 prisoners at one time. Auschwitz I was strictly a camp for prisoners who were able to work in the factories; the old, the young and the sick were sent to Birkenau.

Block 27 is located on the first street that intersects the main camp street, as you enter through the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate. Turn to your right on this street and go past the camp kitchen to Block 27.

Block 27 has displays devoted to the Jewish victims at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Blocks 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, and 21 have exhibits devoted to the various nations that were victimized by the Nazis.

Block 13 has a Museum devoted to the Extermination of the European Roma, known to Americans as Gypsies. The photo below is a display in this Museum. When I visited this museum in September 2005, I was the only person there.

Part of the display in the Gypsy Museum in Block 13

The exhibits in Block 16 are entitled "The Tragedy of Slovak Jews. Prisoners from the Czech Lands at Auschwitz." Block 17 has exhibits about the prisoners sent to Auschwitz from Yugoslavia and Austria. Elie Wiesel and his father stayed in the barracks in Block 17 for three weeks before being sent to work in the factories at Auschwitz III. All of the prisoners were kept in quarantine for a few weeks to make sure they were not suffering from any communicable diseases.

The title of the exhibit in Block 18 is "The Citizen Betrayed, to the Memory of the Hungarian Holocaust." The Hungarian Jews were not deported until the Spring of 1944 after the country was taken over by the German Army.

Block 20 is in honor of the "People Deported from France to Auschwitz (March 1942 to January 27, 1945)" and Block 21 is devoted to the "Persecution and deportation of Jews in the Netherlands, 1940 - 1945." Italy is also included in the exhibits in Block 21.

Swimming Pool

Block 11 - the camp prison

Prison Cells Inside Block 11

Standing Cells in Block 11

The Black Wall

Kitchen & other buildings in Auschwitz I

Barracks Buildings in Auschwitz 1

Old Sentry Box and camp kitchen

Commandant's house & old theater

Gas Chamber

Introduction to Auschwitz I

Entrance to Visitor's Center

Inside the Visitor's Center

Entrance through "Arbeit Macht Frei" Gate

Auschwitz Museum Exhibits


This page was last updated on July 29, 2009