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MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL IN SOBIBÓR. THE NAZI GERMAN EXTERMINATION CAMP (1942–1943)

About Museum

Museum History

Following the end of the Second World War, Sobibór and its history had been forgotten for over twenty years. The first proposals to commemorate the Sobibór extermination site were put forward not earlier than by the 1960s. It was related with the lawsuits against the Nazi perpetrators in Hagen (Germany) and Krasnodar (then USSR).

The author of the first commemoration is engineer Romuald Dylewski. The most important elements of the commemoration comprised a monument (by Mieczysław Welter) depicting a woman with a child standing near a column alluding to gas chambers, and a symbolic mound where the bodies of the murdered had been burnt and buried. The ceremonial unveiling of the monument, organised by the Regional Committee for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites in Lublin, took place on June 27, 1965. However, the then form of commemoration did not fully reflect the truth about this place. There was information on the memorial plaque that about 250,000 Soviet prisoners of war had been killed in the camp.

In 1993, on the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the uprising in Sobibór, the Museum of the Former Death Camp was established as a branch of the Museum of the Łęczyna and Włodawa Lake District. The ceremony was participated by many former prisoners. At that time, a new multilingual memorial plaque was unveiled informing on the extermination of 250,000 Jews.

In 2003, initiated by social organisations Bildungswerk Stanislaw Hantz from Kassel (Germany), Stichting Sobibor (The Netherlands), and the Society for Commemorating Sobibór (Poland), the “Remembrance Alley” – a new form of commemoration – was created. The symbolic stones placed next to it bear the names of people murdered in Sobibór and commemorate particular groups of victims (eg Jews from Chełm, Włodawa or Izbica).

In May 2012, the Museum of the Former Death Camp in Sobibór became a branch office of the State Museum at Majdanek. The Museum at Majdanek initiated the design of a new architectural and landscape form of commemoration of the former extermination camp in Sobibór. The design was intended to follow the layout of the monument complex erected in 1965. The members of the Steering Committee composed of Poland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Israel are responsible for the concept of the new Museum and Memorial in Sobibór.

The new design was selected in an international competition for an architectural and artistic concept of the memorial site. It was developed by a team of architects consisting of: Marcin Urbanek, Piotr Michalewicz, Łukasz Mieszkowski, and Mateusz Tański.

In July 2017, work was completed on securing the clearing with the mass graves in which the ashes of the victims had been buried. Dignified commemoration, preservation and proper protection of the site are among the most important elements of the concept of creating the new museum. The clearing was covered with layers of geotextile and white marble aggregate.

The next stage was the construction of the building of the Museum and Memorial in Sobibór. The shape of the facility corresponds with the space of the former German death camp. It consists of a glazed exposition hall which houses the permanent exhibition as well as a multi-purpose room intended, among others, for conducting educational classes, lectures, and seminars. The building also houses a visitor service centre and offices for employees.

In October 2020, the permanent exhibition “SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor. German Death Camp 1942–1943” was opened. The scenario of the exhibition was prepared by the historians of the State Museum at Majdanek: dr Tomasz Kranz, dr hab. Dariusz Libionka, and Krzysztof Banach. The expostion consists of 16 thematic panels and strives to present the history of the death camp in Sobibór, taking into account the fate of individual victims in the broad context of the operation of the Nazi apparatus for the extermination of Jews in Poland and Europe. Iconographic materials comprise almost a hundred photographs and documents. The central part of the exhibition space is a 25-metre showcase with 700 objects discovered during archaeological excavations that have been going on since 2000. They mainly include personal items belonging to the victims, such as: jewellery, keys, glasses, fragments of clothes, stationery. Most of them remain anonymous. In terms of the means used, the permanent exhibition is characterised by diversity, as both analogue and multimedia forms can be found there. They are intended to encourage the viewer to explore, contemplate and interpret the historical place.

The construction of the Museum and Memorial in Sobibór was financed by a grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, while the costs of the exhibition were covered by the State Museum at Majdanek from the funds provided by the Federal Republic of Germany.

Currently, work is underway to expose the outline of the gas chambers and to renovate the monument-sculpture, whose new location is intended to make visitors aware of the tragedy of 180,000 victims.

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