Auschwitz Museum Unearths Victims' Lost Possessions

A man walks in Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II), a former Nazi death camp in Poland, May 5. Kacper Pempel/Reuters

The Auschwitz museum has recovered thousands of personal items belonging to Jews who died in the camp, decades after they were first found and swiftly forgotten.

In 1967, a major research project on the site of the “Auschwitz II” Birkenau camp uncovered a huge range of items belonging to victims. Elżbieta Cajzer, head of the Museum Collections said in a statement that the museum set out to track the objects down after realizing that the official register of excavated objects only listed 400 items when staff knew there had to be far more.

After making contact with the last living participants in the archaeological project, museum curators eventually tracked down 48 cardboard boxes stored in a building at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

They contained more than 16,000 personal items including thermometers, empty bottles of medicines, fragments of shoes, jewellery, cutlery, watches, brushes, tobacco pipes, lighters, fragments of kitchenware, buttons, pocket knives, keys, and many others.

Museum director Piotr M.A. Cywiński said the objects may not have been properly cared for since the 1960s because of anti-Semitism prevalent in Poland’s communist regime.

“Presumably, [the items] were supposed to be analyzed and studied. This is a unique collection in every way. A few months [after the excavation], there was a political turnabout in 1968 and the communist authority took a clearly anti-Semitic 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,” Cywiński said in a statement.

The museum is now launching a major project to categorize the objects.

“This is an unexpected, totally unique day in the newest history of our museum,” Cywiński said.