The Birkenau Memorial - Memory makes us free

The Birkenau Memorial

The International Monument, built in the Auschwitz II camp, known as Birkenau, is located at the western end of the main road of the camp, where the tracks of the railway meet inside the Lager end, not far from the ruins of Crematorium II and Crematorium III, the largest gas chambers in Birkenau. All around the barracks, the watchtowers, and the fence posts are still in their place. The field is still there, monstrously large and silent.

In 1957 the Auschwitz International Committee promoted a competition in which 685 sculptors and architects from 36 countries participated with 426 projects to create a memorial of the crime and horror in the Nazi concentration and extermination camp.

The jury led by British sculptor Henry Moore, later replaced by art critic and historian Lionello Venturi, chose the team led by Pietro Cascella and Giorgio Simoncini.

The project activities lasted until 1965 and the Monument was finished in 1967.

The work consists of a set of granite slabs of different shapes and sizes interlocked with each other, and reaches a height of about two metres.

A single slab with a triangle in the centre, a symbol of political prisoners, is 4.50 m high.

All around there is a large area of steps where large numbers of people can gather, and this is where official ceremonies are held. On the steps of the monument, there is a row of granite slabs with inscriptions in different languages.

Commemorative plaque in Italian – International Memorial – Auschwitz 2

Until 1990, the words stamped on the plates are:

“FOUR MILLION PEOPLE SUFFERED AND DIED HERE AT THE HAND OF NAZI ASSASSINS BETWEEN THE YEARS 1940 AND 1945.”

The estimate of 4 million people killed was based on the investigation of a Soviet commission published in 1945, which took into account only the theoretical maximum daily yield of the crematoria and their period of use, a hypothesis partially confirmed in the subsequent Nuremberg trial when Rudolf Höß, commander of the camp, testified that between 1940 and 1943 (the camp was operational until 1945) about 3 million people had been exterminated there.

Later numerous historians contested the number and stated that the estimated figure could be between a million and a hundred and a million and a half. The main promoter of the replacement was Franciszek Piper, director of the Historical Research Department of the Auschwitz Museum.

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