Theses Master's

Preservation And Politics: The Presentation Of The Shoah And The Lasting Impact Of Early Preservation Campaigns At Auschwitz-Birkenau

Wagner, Esther

The Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz, and extermination camp, Birkenau (Auschwitz II), were liberated in January of 1945 by the Soviet Red Army, were fully evacuated by April of the same year, and by April 1947, the Auschwitz State Museum (ASM) was legally established on the grounds. However, the identification of Auschwitz and Birkenau as evidence against the Nazis and as facilitator for the proliferation of Polish national martyrdom, occurred even before its liberation. The preservation of the camps in-situ immediately following World War II, memorialized specifically the Polish victims of Nazi war crimes and the communist vanquishers of a fascist regime; this would inform the site’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List 32 years later, ensuring the perpetuation of these agendas through the museum’s layout and interpretive materials. Auschwitz-Birkenau’s prominent role at the forefront of the study and interpretation of Holocaust history cannot be overstated, thus the status of its inscription, preservation, and interpretation must be carefully evaluated for the continued use of the site as an educational and culturally sensitive memorial.

Incorporating evidence from literature and archival reviews, informational interviews, and an extensive site evaluation, this thesis demonstrates how history has been distorted to support the specific agendas of the site’s early stakeholders and to explore how the political environment immediately surrounding a heritage site impacts its conservation and historical narrative. This thesis will analyze the lasting consequences of the initial preservation campaign at the site of the Konzentrationslager Auschwitz, specifically how the marginalization of minority victim groups throughout its several stages of postwar conservation has been sustained. The current layout of the museum and memorial continues to reflect these past injustices – specifically in the stark contrasts between the museum in Auschwitz I and the memorial at Birkenau. Further, the site’s inscription on the World Heritage List in 1979 as “Auschwitz Concentration Camp,” during the Cold War, and while Poland was under an oppressive communist occupation, will demonstrate the importance of international cooperation in the safeguarding of heritage sites, especially those of mass trauma. The heightened status of a UNESCO World Heritage site promulgates politicized interpretation, thereby impacting contemporary understanding of the Holocaust as it occurred in Auschwitz I and Birkenau.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Sher, Sarah E.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2024