Auschwitz: Art, Commemoration and Memorialisation: From 1940 To The Present
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STEFAN LUDWIK ALOSZKO
AUSCHWITZ: ART, COMMEMORATION AND MEMORIALISATION: FROM 1940 TO THE PRESENT ABSTRACT This thesis explores chronologically the art, commemoration and memorialisation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps at Auschwitz, from their establishment in 1940 to the present day. Following a review of the literature in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 examines the production of works of art by the inmates of the camp. That art should have been produced at all in Auschwitz may conflict with our expectations, given the conditions of life within the camp. Nevertheless, art was as necessary in Auschwitz as it is elsewhere. The present account of the making of art under such difficult circumstances attempts to make a significant addition to the established narratives of Auschwitz. The post-war development of Auschwitz as a site-specific museum, established to commemorate the victims of the camp almost as soon as the site was liberated in 1945, permits analysis of techniques utilized by the museum authorities to display artefacts in order to narrate the story of Auschwitz. This is the subject of Chapter 3. For a period, the site was used by successive Polish political administrations to construct and bind Polish national identity to Russian political demands. The act of memorialisation has been shaped by political requirements almost throughout Auschwitz’s post-war history. The determinant of recognition for memorial purposes was national identity. The use of overtly religious iconography, whether Christian or Jewish, was severely limited. Communist governments defined all victims as political, and specifically as victims of the struggle against Nazism. These political considerations affected the inconclusive 1957 memorial competition. This competition, and its political contexts, is described in Chapters 4 and 5. In 1968 the Polish government began an anti-Semitic campaign that provoked international condemnation. Chapter 6 surveys these events, and describes one significant outcome, the establishment at the site of what was known locally as the Jewish pavilion. Finally, in Chapter 7, I draw together the three overriding concepts of art, commemoration and memorialisation – the predominant themes of this discussion – in order to show how the conception of Auschwitz has moved beyond the physical boundaries of the historical site. The question of what the site itself means, or should mean, remains a matter of continuing debate. The narrative of memorialisation at Auschwitz becomes increasingly marked by single events such as the establishment of the Jewish Pavilion, each embodying the turn towards the recognition that what should be remembered lies beyond nationality, and is separate from the contingent politics of the post-war settlement. Behind this, however, lies a further and more important narrative: that at every point in its history Auschwitz was intrinsically and inescapably a Jewish experience. This subsumes the particularities of the slow realization that this is what the site should celebrate. This thesis is committed to embodying this overarching narrative, and aspects of it can be found throughout, in every chapter.
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