Thousands of Personal Belongings of Jews Slaughtered in Auschwitz Recovered in ‘Historic’ Find
More than 16,000 lost items belonging to Jewish inmates at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp were recently recovered in a “historic” find, the Auschwitz Museum in Poland announced on Tuesday.
The items were originally found during archaeological digs, carried out in 1967, the museum said in a statement, assessing that the objects are likely the last personal belongings of the Jews who shed them before being ushered into the gas chambers.
Among the objects found were fragments of shoes, watches, cutlery, keys, buttons, brushes, medicine bottles, pocket knives and jewelry. The items were eventually stored away by the subsequent communist regime in Poland.
According to Elżbieta Cajzer, head of Museum Collections, museum officials noticed something was amiss after viewing a short documentary highlighting the process of the 1967 excavations. “As a result of these works, which were shown in the video, a large number of original objects were found from the period of the functioning of the camp. The register of the Museum Collections only shows slightly more than 400 objects from these excavations. We were convinced, however, that it had to be much more. We began the several months’ investigation by verifying archival documentation,” she said.
Several times, the investigation hit a dead end, as people who were working at the museum at the time of the excavations were long gone, the creator of the film had died and the archives had no new information. “Nevertheless, we checked every lead. We could not be certain whether the results of the archaeological research had not been squandered or fragmented. After all, almost 50 years have passed. Polish institutions have undergone thorough changes after the fall of communism. We took into account and were prepared for any eventuality,” said Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński. the Auschwitz Museum director.
According to Cajzer, a breakthrough came when “we succeeded in making contact with the last living persons who participated in the project almost 50 years ago,” but they were uncertain of the location of the misplaced objects.
“It turned out that they were stored in 48 cardboard boxes at one of the buildings of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Most of them the entire time were packed in individually marked boxes which is today very important for the process of documentation and verification of the authenticity, as they indicate the place of finding or precise information about an individual object,” Cajzer stated.
Cywiński believes the items were meant to be studied and analyzed. However, a few months after their discovery, “There was a political turnabout in 1968 and the communist authority took a clearly antisemitic course. Perhaps, that is why they did not hurry with the implementation and closure of this project. The times then were difficult for topics related to the Holocaust,” the museum director added.
The newfound historic objects were transported to the Auschwitz Museum on June 3, and will be undergoing a thorough documentation and preservation process. Over 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps.