Presentation of the Holocaust at Permanent Exhibitions of the State Museum at Majdanek

Krzysztof Banach


The State Museum at Majdanek was created in November 1944, with its first permanent exhibition officially opened in September 1945. Although the creators of the exhibition did not marginalize the subject matter connected with the extermination of Jews intentionally, the main goal of the Museum at that time was to lay the foundations of national martyrdom in post-war Poland. At the end of the 1940s Majdanek became a symbol of international martyrdom. The “Jewish” exhibition opened in 1946 as one of the so-called “national barracks” and functioned until the end of the decade, when the state policy turned towards cold war isolationism. The exhibition that opened in 1954 was mainly a propaganda tool of the communist regime, marginalizing the Holocaust subject matter by presenting it as one of the elements in the “destruction of millions” intended to annihilate the Slavic nations. In the 1960s the Jewish subject matter was still not officially tolerated by the communist state, but the authors of the 1962 exhibition (which remained the same for over 30 years) prepared it with much greater care and accuracy. Moreover, ambiguities and defects of the exhibitions from the communist period were not fully corrected in the exhibition opened in 1996, seven years after the fall of the communist regime. The exhibition techniques used for its creation hindered museum visitors from gaining comprehensive information concerning the Holocaust at Majdanek from the general narration. Nevertheless, a positive tendency started with this exhibition: the highlighting of facts concerning individual victims. This idea was further developed in 2008, when a modernization program was implemented in the Museum. Putting emphasis on the narration concerning the extermination of Jews at Majdanek was one of its elements. The new permanent exhibition, which will be opened at the Museum in the nearest future, will strive to show that the history of mass murder which took place at Majdanek is a sum of individual people’s fates and tragedies.


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