On May 19, one of our four #StolenMemory exhibition containers has started touring Poland. The exhibition has symbolically crossed the bridge between the twin towns of Görlitz (Germany) and Zgorzelec (Poland). The container can be visited on Plac Jerzego Popiełuszki in Zgorzelec until June 10.
A shipping container was converted to house the exhibition that tells about the fates of ten former concentration camp prisoners. When the Nazis arrested them, they confiscated all their prisoners’ personal belongings and kept them: watches, wedding rings, family photos – personal mementoes. After the war, these objects found their way to Arolsen, and the institution was given the task of finding the rightful owners or their relatives in order to restore the keepsakes to them. Today, the Arolsen Archives work with volunteers from all over Europe to search for the families of the persecutees. Together, we have succeeded in finding more than 600 families in the past six years.
An exhibition in wartime
The opening ceremony in Zgorzelec was organised by the town authorities of Zgorzelec and the local culture center. Numerous representatives from Zgorzelec and Görlitz, the Arolsen Archives, and residents of the two towns attended the cross-border event.
Floriane Azoulay, Director of the Arolsen Archives, highlighted the symbolic importance of the Polish-German border region. Though not omitting the difficult past, she emphasized the restoration of good relations between the two countries.
»Even as we speak, a war of aggression is being waged on the other side of Poland – in Ukraine. People’s lives are being destroyed – not only their identities and their dignity, but also their property and everything they have achieved as a state and as a society.«
Floriane Azoulay, director of the Arolsen Archives
A recurring theme of the addresses given at the opening ceremony was the continuing war in nearby Ukraine and the crimes against humanity committed there by Russia. Floriane Azoulay made the following remarks:
Lives torn apart by war and persecution, the loss of human dignity and freedom – for a long time, the difficult topics covered by the exhibition seemed to be the stuff of history books, albeit chapters that should never ever be forgotten. We thought things like that could never happen again. Never again. But even as we speak, a war of aggression is being waged on the other side of Poland – in Ukraine. People’s lives are being destroyed – not only their identities and their dignity, but also their property and everything they have achieved as a state and as a society.
Become a volunteer
Around 2,500 envelopes that contain personal objects taken away from prisoners – so many stolen memories stored in Bad Arolsen are waiting to be returned to their rightful owners. Most of them, about 900 in all, belonged to persecutees from Poland: that means there are 900 families that still have to be found. The Arolsen Archives cannot tackle that task without any help(ers). They need the support of volunteers who play an active part in searching at local level or via social media.
That is why our #StolenMemory campaign mainly addresses young people, but we also welcome anyone who is interested in history and would like to join in. A good starting point for the search is the #StolenMemory map: Choose a person whose family has not yet been found and search for data on them in our online archive. When you have collected all the information available on their biography and persecution, you can continue the search either online or in the relevant town archives. Go to our website to find all our advice on how to search.
Route of the container
The traveling exhibition can be seen in Zgorzelec until June 10; then it will journey on to Gdynia (June 10 – 21) and to the Stutthof concentration camp memorial (June 21 – July 12). Further stops to follow are: Gniezno, Mińsk Mazowiecki, Mielec, Kraków, Żory, Chorzów, and Święciechowa. You can find all the dates and locations on our website.
Aside from the container that is touring Poland right now, three further containers are currently on tour in Germany and Belgium telling the stories of #StolenMemory. The Polish-German container is funded by the U.S. diplomatic missions in Germany and Poland, and when this year’s tour is over, it will be shown in Poland again in 2023.