Auschwitz II-Birkenau Memorial Complex

The goal of the project is to create a place of preventive treatment, a vaccine for evil. We focus on the main question: how the most ordinary person can turn into an executioner. Basically, in museums and memorials, visitors are invited to feel the role of a victim. But victims do not choose their fate, they are not to blame for it, while executioners or accomplices of evil become willingly. So by visiting such a complex a person should receive an effective inoculation against evil.

The fact that 75-80% of people need such therapy and inoculation is amply supported by postwar scientific studies of human conformity, obedience to authority, and a propensity for cruelty. These include Milgram’s experiment in which 87.5% of subjects “killed” the victim by submitting to the scientist’s authority by applying a current of up to 450 volts. In Asch’s experiment, 75% of the subjects agreed with the deliberately wrong opinion of the majority. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, students in the role of guards began to exhibit sadistic tendencies after 2 days because of their role. These experiments have been repeated in various countries and have irrefutably proved the universality of the results: 75% of people are willing to carry out the most horrific orders. Reducing this figure, inoculating acceptance of evil and submission to it should be the main mission of this museum and memorial complex.

Architects: Misha Krymov, Aleksei Goriainov, Ilya Lapin, Irina Cochouque

Design: 2015

In order to change something in people, in their nature, it is necessary to evoke strong emotions in them, make them survive the situation in which the executioners and their victims found themselves. Therefore, the memorial should be located in close proximity to the Auschwitz II camp. At the same time, it should not significantly affect the general appearance of the camp.

We see the solution in placing the main part of the complex underground, stretching it 400 meters along the main fence of the camp, behind the road. The entrance to the complex is located near the main entrance to the camp.

We divide the complex into two main parts:

“The Way of the Executioner” (underground) and “Gallery of Memory” (above ground).

“The Way of the Executioner” (underground)

The underground part is a long concrete corridor with an exhibit. The purpose of this exposition is to show how easily and inconspicuously anyone can become an executioner or part of the great evil. That is why there is a long, smooth descent into the underground part. The exposition successively shows the stages in the lives of ordinary people that eventually lead to participation in a grand crime. First, we see ordinary footage of normal family life, ordinary beautiful houses with flower beds, etc. Then various documents record how the man moves step by step toward the finale, not knowing where the point of no return is. At the end of the exhibit, we see the ready-made executioners and the result of their activities. While viewing the exhibit, the visitor takes a series of simple tests, compiled by professional psychologists, which contain no direct hints of their true nature and as in result show people how easily they can be manipulated and how easily they can be led astray.

Visitors are also introduced to the famous Milgram, Asch, Stanford Prison Experiment experiments mentioned above.

Visitors then enter a large room, the purpose of which is to show what wrong choices lead to and to give an idea of the magnitude of the tragedy that took place in this death camp. It is an empty room, in the center of which stands a 6x6x6 meter glass cube, completely filled with cell phones. Such a cube holds about a million and a half phones, which clearly demonstrates this figure. Modern phones make people feel that similar things can happen to any of us now, that evil is not a relic of the past. The walls of this room are entirely covered with mirrored glass so that the reflections of the cube form an endless field of such cubes, symbolizing the scale of such crimes in our world.

“Gallery of Memory” (above ground)

Next, the visitor ascends a ramp around the cube, located behind a mirrored wall, and in the process sees the cube through the mirrored glass. Nowhere in the underground section is there any natural light from the outside, but as the visitor ascends the ramp, he gradually emerges to the surface, into the glass gallery. He finds himself in front of the distant barracks and can finally realize that everything he has been told about underground is a terrifying reality. As he walks through the gallery, he walks past endless barracks where hundreds of thousands of real people have been imprisoned. This is the memorial gallery for the victims. Here, right on the glass, are lists and photographs of those about whom records have survived, and there are endless silhouettes symbolizing all the victims. These silhouettes, even with a height of only three centimeters each, create a line of 22.5 km long, and fill the entire surface of the gallery wall with a height of 3 m and a length of 300 m.

Both parts of the memorial are intentionally designed to be very long. First, it concentrates attention on the successive parts of the exposition, since the entire memorial is the path a person has to take in order to be inoculated against evil. Second, it corresponds to the entire structure of the camp, which was essentially a conveyor belt for the continuous extermination of people.

After walking through the entire gallery, the visitor reaches the main gate of the camp, from where he can continue directly on the premises.

Black Hall

It is worth mentioning the section devoted to the atrocities of the executioners. Most museums try to demonstrate the full degree of the horror of the tragedy as clearly as possible with the help of gruesome film and photo images depicting the victims of the death camps. This is fundamentally wrong, because the disgust that arises will not allow one to see people like us in the decomposing corpses and one will try to avoid the visual experience and abstract oneself from the situation.

But our goal is not to show what people become after a monstrous death, but to make it clear that every person who enters the camp is a living person, a personality just like the one who visited the memorial. What is frightening is not how these photographic documents look, but the fact that millions of living people, primarily women, children and the elderly, were methodically exterminated in a specially created factory of death. That is why we set aside a separate room for such photographic documents, which is located in a separate room, behind a cube with telephones. At the entrance, the visitor is warned about the content of the exhibit so that he or she can make a conscious decision about whether or not to visit it. This solution will increase the number of school-age visitors, who are not frequent visitors to such complexes now for the reasons described above.

Article on about the project here