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November 26, 2014 9:23 pm

Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Launches Virtual Tour of Death Camp

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Auschwitz Entrance. Photo: Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

Auschwitz Entrance. Photo: Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum this week launched a virtual tour on its website, where visitors can wander around the former death camp and view high-quality, panoramic images of the booths and camp exhibits, Israel’s NRG News said Wednesday.

The virtual tour project was under development in recent years, and was completed in time for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp complex by the Red Army, which will be commemorated this coming January.

Auschwitz served the Nazis as an extermination camp, from June 1940 to January 1945, and held some 150,000 inmates at any given time.

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The number of victims of Auschwitz is estimated at 1.1 million out of 1.3 million deported to Auschwitz, according to museum officials.

“The majority of prisoners held at Auschwitz were killed in the various gas chambers though many died from starvation, forced labor, disease, shooting squads, and heinous medical experiments,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

The tour is presented in English and Polish and allows the viewer to get a full historical account of the camp, and view thousands of photos, documentary evidence, works of art created by prisoners in the camp and objects they used daily.

“For us, the virtual tour is first and foremost an educational project of the first order,” according to museum Director, Dr. Piotr M.A. CywiÅ„ski, “That’s why we provide much historical information along with the panoramas.

“First of all, it includes numerous accounts of eyewitnesses and their descriptions of respective places. Therefore, the panoramas may be helpful when preparing a visit to the Memorial Site. We should not forget, however, that many people will never have the opportunity to experience the authentic site of Auschwitz in person, if only due to the distance from their place of residence. A virtual way of visiting is their only chance to get at least an approximation of the real experience of the authentic premises of the former camp,” according to CywiÅ„ski.

Auschwitz virtual tour. Photo: screenshot.

Auschwitz virtual tour. Photo: screenshot.

“Apart from the premises, virtual visitors may ‘enter’ a few historical facilities that are closed to the public, such as the guard towers; Block 10, where sterilisation experiments were conducted; a few cells located underground in the camp prison in Block 11. The panoramas also present Block 2, which is preserved in its original condition. For conservation reasons, only small study groups are currently allowed access to this block,” according to museum officials.

One of the challenges faced by museum staff who worked in recent years to establish the virtual tour, was to view the former death camp at various times of the year. For this purpose, over the last two years, museum personnel shot thousands of pictures that show Auschwitz year-round.

“During the virtual tour, you can see photographs taken from various heights; from a few metres and several dozen metres. Thanks to this, the authentic architecture of the place becomes more readable,” said Marek Kocjan. “The pictures were taken in various weather conditions and at different times of day. It is a unique opportunity to see the former camp premises at night, for example.”

According to photographer Leszek Cuper, “In a few places, we used so-called Giga-Pixel technology enabling to prepare panoramas in very high resolution. Therefore, when looking at the exhibition displayed in the so-called ‘Sauna’ building in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, users can read all the captions under the photos documenting the story of a few families deported by the Germans to the camp from the BÄ™dzin ghetto.

“Usually, visitors may spend only a few minutes at this spot. During the virtual tour, however, they will have the opportunity to experience this highly moving exhibition at their own pace,” said Cuper.

During the virtual tour visitors can also get recommendations for books and online classes on various topics related to the history of Auschwitz.

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