The Yugoslavia pavilion at Auschwitz

The way that the Auschwitz museum is set up, just about all of the exhibits are at the first camp, Auschwitz I (and not at the very much larger Auschwitz II - Birkenau, which is where the large-scale killing for which the place is known was committed). At Auschwitz I is the main exhibit hall with artifacts trucked over from Birkenau for display, some barracks restored as exhibit halls, and a row of the "national" exhibits in former barracks. The "national" exhibits are prepared by specialists from the country represented in the space, and in many it is clear that a good deal of thought went into the selection of display materials, thematic emphasis, the distribution of emotional and historical clues, and many other factors. It is also clear that all of these exhibits are regularly updated and revised. All except one, which has obviously not been changed for a good twenty years, and is not likely to be changed any time in the foreseeable future.

The Yugoslavia exhibit is on the top floor of a barrack that is shared with the very razzle-dazzle Austrian exhibit (which centers on the dangers of nationalism). The first room presents general information on the period, with many photos repeated from the main exhibit hall a few buildings away. There is a very little bit of information about the 24,000 people from Yugoslavia who were put in the camp. Some of them were in a resistance organisation, if you want to know more about that or how resistance organisations functioned, or how the Yugoslavian ones related with the others, you will not find out from the exhibit.

The second room gives a general presentation, very NOB-centric, of the occupation and war in Yugoslavia. Some crimes, some collaborators, and a whole lot of Partisan heroics. The passage of time makes this emphasis more interesting, since this is now the only site at the museum where the myth of massive resistance is preserved. The visitor is able to follow the growth of Partisan divisions, peek in at AVNOJ, trace the expansion of liberated territory. The exhibit ends with a big photo of Tito signing the new constitution of FNRJ.

Since the country that designed the exhibit no longer exists, and since the museum site does not have extra barracks for the countries that have come about in the meantime, the Yugoslav pavilion will probably remain a fascinating relic of Communist historiography for some time. I left the hall torn between the feeling that some good historians could probably (without the sponsorship of any government) do much better on the one hand, and the urge to sing Partisan songs on the other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The exhibit was closed when I was there this past weekend (11/9/08)