The Washington Post is reporting that the Government of Poland has demanded that one of the most telling and moving and powerful exhibits at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., be returned to Poland.
The original barracks from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp was on loan since the building and opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in the early ’90s. In fact, the museum was designed and built around the Barracks being displayed as part of the permanent collection.
This is what the Post is reporting: The barracks are being returned to Poland after the end of a long-term loan from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The Holocaust Museum has obtained similar barracks from the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp to replace the original ones, which have been a centerpiece of the exhibition since the museum’s opening in 1993.
On Tuesday, the permanent exhibition closed and will remain closed for five months to allow for the removal of the barracks and the installation of the new acquisition.
The removal of the barracks comes after years of sensitive negotiations between the Polish government and the Holocaust Museum. In 2003, Poland passed a law stating that no historical artifact could remain on loan abroad for more than five years without being returned for inspection.
Museum officials and several members of the team that designed the permanent exhibition worried that the new law could require significant artifacts to be returned to Poland, affecting the design of the museum.
In a statement, the Holocaust Museum said that the barracks are being returned and reassembled in Poland for purposes of inspection, and that returning them to the United States after inspection would have risked significant damage to the structure.
Still, the negotiations over the barracks caused tension between the museum and Polish officials in the past few years. The barracks are half a wooden building where dozens of prisoners slept as they awaited death. They are considered by the museum’s designers to be among the most chilling artifacts in the museum.
The remaining half stands at Birkenau, one of the two death camps miles apart in the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.
Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar and project director for the museum during its construction, said that the museum was designed and built around the barracks.
“If you look at the pillars of the building, it has slats in them which take those barracks. It’s a complex operation to remove them,” Berenbaum said.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has had tens of millions of people visit since its opening in 1993. More people have been able to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust because of the authentic artifacts it houses.
For the country of Poland to stand of ceremony and bureaucracy and cause the Museum to undertake the unnecessary expense to “swap” barracks is absurd and disappointing. There has been no better steward of the artifacts displayed than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
I served on the Board of the United States Holocaust Memorial in the late ’80s and early ’90s while the museum was under construction and when it was opened. I watched as the Railroad Car and Barracks were installed and never thought that Poland would ever be so stupid and unreasonable enough to ask for their artifacts back so they could be inspected and returned. It makes no sense.
Shame on Poland!
Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. Read more reports from Bradley Blakeman — Click Here Now.
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