The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum just released a moving documentary that tells the story of the museum’s founding and charts its 70-year history. The museum, which receives over one million visitors each year, was founded in 1947.
Although the museum is a beacon of Holocaust education for people around the world, it has a controversial history.
When the museum was founded, the Polish legislature deemed it a “Monument to the Martyrology of the Polish Nation and other Nations.” Not until after Poland’s 1956 October Revolution were historians working at the museum allowed to mention Jews explicitly. When the country was under Stalinist control, Jews were referred to as “citizens of other countries.”
The museum also published documentation on Jewish sonderkommando — the men who were tasked with unloading the crematoriums — during a period of time when anti-Semitism was on the rise in Poland.
The man responsible for making the museum into the international destination it is today was its director from 1955-1990, Kazimierz Smoleń, a former inmate of Auschwitz. In 1962 the Polish legislature made the camp a historical preservation site. In 1979 the museum was dubbed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.