As World Recalls Auschwitz, New Plaques Help the Visitor

The Auschwitz Museum is installing a new system of plaques and makers at Birkenau in an effort to make the tragedy of the concentration camp more accessible to visitors.

The new system is designed both to provide detailed information about the death camp and to commemorate its victims.

Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, was the vast death camp two miles from the main Auschwitz camp. Jews across Europe were brought to Birkenau by rail in crowded cattle cars. From there, selections were made regarding who should go immediately to the gas chambers and who should be put to forced labor.

Most of the Auschwitz murders occurred at Birkenau.

The liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, where the Nazis slaughtered between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people between 1940 and 1945, is the focus of commemorations being held this week.

Since the fall of Poland’s Communist regime five years ago, numerous changes have been implemented at Auschwitz-Birkenau in order to correct Communist era disinformation, which had minimized the overwhelming Jewish character of Auschwitz victims.

The Birkenau camp encompasses some 350 acres. Unlike Auschwitz I, whose building were turned into exhibition halls for a memorial museum, Birkenau was left as it was when the Nazis fled in 1945.

Before fleeing, the Nazis blew up the crematoria and destroyed or partially destroyed almost all other building on the site.

Aside from ruins and barbed wire, Birkenau today consists of its main entry building the rail line, a few structures and guard towers, and scores of skeletal chimneys marking the sites of destroyed barracks.

The new information markers at Birkeau consist of slabs of black granite in the size and shape of tombstones. They are set up in groups at numerous sites around the former camp.

Some of the markers are already in place, while others are still being prepared. Some will bear informational texts in several languages describing given places. Others will bear maps and plans of the camp and its buildings. Still others will bear etched photographs showing how Birkenau looked during its operation and at its liberation.

Other makers, in Polish, English, Hebrew and Yiddish, will mark places where human ashes still lie.

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