|Poland, US museum tussle over Auschwitz barracks |
A section of barracks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim, Poland . Polish and U.S. officials are engaged in talks to determine the fate of a sensitive object: barracks from the Auschwitz death camp on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Poland is demanding the return of the artifact, which has been on loan to the Washington museum for more than 20 years. But the U.S. museum is resisting the demand, saying the object is fragile and shouldn't be moved. The issue has risen because of a Polish law aimed at safeguarding a cultural heritage previously ravaged by war. AP Photo/Pawel Sawicki/Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
By: Vanessa Gera, Associated Press
WARSAW (AP).- Polish and U.S. officials are engaged in intense talks to determine the fate of a sensitive object: a barrack that once housed doomed prisoners at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp and is now on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Poland is demanding the return of the artifact, which has been on loan to the Washington museum for more than 20 years and is an important object in its permanent exhibition. But the U.S. museum is resisting the demand, saying the valuable object shouldn't be moved partly because it is too fragile.
"Due to the barrack's size and the complexity of its installation, removing and transporting it to Poland presents special difficulties, including potentially damaging the artifact," the U.S. Holocaust museum said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Both the Museum and our Polish partners have been actively discussing various proposals, and we remain committed to continue working with them to resolve this matter."
The issue has arisen because of a Polish law aimed at safeguarding a cultural heritage ravaged by past wars, particularly World War II. Under the law, passed in 2003, any historic object on loan abroad must return to Poland every five years for inspection. While Poland appears open to renewing the loan, it says the barracks must return at least temporarily.
Because of the rule, the U.S. museum in recent years has already returned thousands of objects dating to the Holocaust, including suitcases, shoes and prosthetic limbs, often in exchange for new, temporary loans of similar or identical items.
The barracks on view in Washington are, in fact, just half of a wooden building where prisoners slept in cramped, filthy and often freezing conditions as they awaited extermination, often in gas chambers. The remaining half still stands at Birkenau, a part of the vast Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.
The two camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau, are about two miles (three kilometers) apart but were part of the same machinery of death during the war and the complex is typically referred to simply as "Auschwitz."
The director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, Piotr Cywinski, accuses the U.S. institution of violating the terms of a 20-year loan on the barracks, saying the loan expired in 2009.
"We have indicated many times that this half of the barracks must return, that there is no other solution in accordance with the law," Cywinski said. "It's a very important object, not just for Washington but for the integrity of Birkenau, the last authentic site of Holocaust remembrance among all the major death camps."
Many of Poland's paintings, churches and other cultural gems were stolen, burned or otherwise destroyed during World War II, when Nazi Germany occupied the country, killed 6 million Polish citizens and built death camps across the country where they brought Jews and others from across Europe for extermination.
The legacy today is that the country possesses few old Polish treasures but has many Holocaust relics including the sprawling site of Auschwitz-Birkenau in the south of the country that is one of the most visited Holocaust remembrance sites in Europe.
The memorial site, in fact, has many personal items that belonged to victims and frequently loans them out to institutions across the world, including Yad Vashem in Israel.
The matter between the Polish and U.S. institutions is extremely delicate and officials on both sides have resisted giving many details, or saying how the matter might be resolved. Poland's ministries of foreign affairs and culture are also involved in the matter but did not respond to AP requests for comment.
Although the problem might appear intractable, the U.S. Holocaust museum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum have cooperated well in the past and share similar missions of Holocaust remembrance leading to expectations they will reach an eventual compromise.
The U.S. Holocaust museum confirms that the 20-year loan on the barracks began in 1989, but says that it was a renewable loan and notes that Polish law was changed since then.
The fate of Cywinski, the Auschwitz museum director, is at stake in the matter. Under the law on protecting historic artifacts, he could be jailed for up to two years if he fails to obtain the return of any object on loan.
Roman Rewald, a Warsaw-based lawyer who has represented the U.S. Holocaust museum in the past on a pro-bono basis and has knowledge of the current discussions, says the matter comes down to Polish law, which is rigid and hard to work around.
The law would do a good job, for instance, of stopping an official from giving away a precious 16th century painting, but isn't as well-suited to regulating Holocaust artifacts, which probably shouldn't be moved so often.
"The Polish law is designed to make sure that nobody has any leeway in allowing Polish artifacts to leave the country permanently," Rewald said. "Poland is trying to protect its artifacts, all of them. Unfortunately Holocaust artifacts, which Poland has an abundance of, fall into the same category as all the other artifacts which Poland has been robbed of during wars, especially World War II."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
February 26, 2012
Exhibition in Bonn features the journeys August Macke undertook during his brief life
Exhibition of the largest single collection of 13th century Mongolian artifacts opens at the Field Museum
MoMA presents exhibition covering Cindy Sherman's career, from the 1970s to the present
Unprecedented imaging project supported by the Getty reveals master work in minute detail-online
The Ashmolean Museum campaigns to save a masterpiece by Edouard Manet for the nation
New York City's Hispanic Society of America, which holds a world-class collection, seeks to make itself known
LACMA to begin transport of boulder for major artwork, Levitated Mass, by artist Michael Heizer
Designers Miuccia Prada, Elsa Schiaparelli in new Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit
On the 210th anniversary of Victor Hugo's birth, Christie's announces the sale of the Hugo Collection
Phillips de Pury & Co. announces highlights from its New York photographs single owner sale
Florida museum auctions off antique cars, carousel, bringing in $38.3 million in sales
Baryshnikov shows his dance photography at the Gary Nader Art Centre in Miami
Bonhams to sell pistols of aide-de-camp to King George III, a veteran of American War of Independence
Poland, US museum tussle over Auschwitz barracks
Claim surfaces of Anne Frank baptism by Mormons
Andrea Galvani's first solo exhibition with Meulensteen opens in New York
"Painting Air: Spencer Finch" opens at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design
Time is out of joint: Photography 1966-2011 by Boris Mikhailov on view at Berlinische Galerie
Academy unhappy but helpless to stop Oscar auction
Most Popular Last Seven Days
1.- Native American masks sold in Paris to be returned to tribes by The Annenberg Foundation
2.- National Gallery of Art presents The Dying Gaul: An ancient Roman masterpiece
3.- Landmark exhibition of Chinese contemporary art opens at Metropolitan Museum of Art
4.- Remains of a 900 year old estate that has a fountain in its garden were exposed in Ramla
5.- Robert L. Oswald, Brother of Lee Harvey Oswald Disputes Last Week's Sale of Coffin
6.- Christie's Auction of Magnificent Jewels offers an Internally Flawless Golconda diamond
7.- Marc Chagall work in German art trove was Nazi-looted: reports German tabloid Bild
8.- $16 million gold Mao statue unveiled in China to commemorate his 120th anniversary
9.- First exhibition to explore the impact in America of Sorolla opens at Meadows Museum
10.- Christie's preliminary appraisal for City of Detroit delivered to the Emergency Manager of the City of Detroit
Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .
|Royalville Communications, Inc|