Out of the 1.1 million Auschwitz prisoners, 500,000 arrived on the so called ‘Judenrampe’, a ramp just a few hundred meters out of the contemporary Birkenau museum camp site. On the place today, a small memorial site is erected: a cattle wagon, referring back to the deportation is placed on the tracks. Although presented as a real cattle wagon dating from the 1940’s, Auschwitz historian Michael Challoner told us that it is actually a French replica from the 1960’s. He said that the rail tracks on which the replica stands are new, the real Judenrampe was located one hundred meters further. But not the allegedly staged nature of this place is the most prominent. Rather, its profanity is more striking. Opposite of the cattle wagon, children play in the garden, and the road to the Judenrampe memorial seems to be a popular path for jogging.
But for me, the goosebumps came only later. Closer to the Birkenau museum, we find the ‘Kartoffelbaracken’, barracks used for the storage of food of the Birkenau camps. The barracks are just outside the museum and are now decaying ruins, covered with graffiti. Most of these graffiti are innocent, but one was particularly painful. It was relatively new, in dark red, and depicted gallows with the Star of David hanging on it. Under it is written in Polish: ‘chciwość (…)srael’. The first letter of the second word is unreadable, but it is quite clear what is means: ‘greed Israel’.
Being in Poland, a confrontation with anti-Semitic graffiti does not come as a surprise, but finding such a repulsive message on physical remains of the Holocaust is probably the biggest harm you can do the place’s history and its victims. And no one seems to care. The message is visible to everyone who wants to see it, no one has removed it. Finding anti-semitic graffiti on the wall of a former Birkenau barrack also touches a paradox of material Holocaust heritage in Oswiecim. What is included in the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum is highly protected, controlled and conserved, but what is just outside is exposed and accessible by anyone and consequently also prone to vandalism, including anti-semitism. A middle way between the control of the museum and the desertion outside seems to be hard to find. UPDATE: In the meantime, the team of the local Wójt (president of the villages around Oswiecim) has painted over the graffiti. After doing more investigations in the buildings, the team discovered 3 other graffiti paintings that had to be removed.