Monday, 27 February 2012

Is repatriation always this complex?

Artdaily reported Polish and US officials are discussing the details of a possible repatriation case. A barrack that once stood in Auschwitz-Birkenau has been on loan to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC for almost 20 years now. The barrack was used as shelter for prisoners awaiting to be executed during WW2 and is charged with significance to many groups.

According to the Polish officials the loan contract explicitly establish 20 years as a deadline for the 'artefact' to return to Poland. But the Holocaust Museum argues it is in no condition to travel.

Artdaily clarifies that:
"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."
Also, according to Polish officials, numerous works of art and artefacts were removed from Poland during or after WW2.

These discussions are obviously immensely sensitive but not much information on the reasoning of either side has been give.

See more here 


  1. I found another article on Sky News that features the same story. It doesn't give a lot of new information, but did mention a remarkable reaction by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Polish politician and survivor of Auschwitz. The politician reputedly said about the incident " It was not in Washington where people were murdered. It is not Washington that is a vast cemetery". I was quite shocked by his statement. Not only is Auschwitz a World Heritage site, but the majority of the people sent to Auschwitz were Jews (from different countries, and not merely Polish Jews!), and there's a large Jewish community in Washington DC, amongst which perhaps also survivors and/or descendants of survivors of Auschwitz. So to insinuate that Washington DC has no claims to the monument because Auschwitz was built in Poland seems quite brutal and a bit narrow-minded to me.

    Another thing that struck me as quite odd was the rigid Polish law that both articles refer to. This law, that has been drafted to protect Polish heritage, actually appears to be so rigid that it might be threatening the very heritage it is supposed to protect! Disregarding the fact that the 20-year loan has not been renewed yet, I find it rather odd that all objects that are sent on a loan to foreign countries have to be returned to Poland every five years for inspection. Every time an artefact is transported it is at risk. Would it not be better for special/large/fragile artefacts such as the barracks as well as large collections that have been loaned out (Art Daily mentioned that thousands of objects have been returned by the US museum) that the Polish inspectors visit the artefacts instead of vice versa?

  2. You make good points there. Another weird thing about the 'law' is that it requires things to be returned so as to be inspected - they could be re-loaned after the inspection. This is a bit counter-productive. That is, perhaps it would be easier, and safer for the object, if someone came to DC to inspect it. Instead of packing this huge and fragile object and sending it on a long journey that might jeopardize its material fabric. But like I said before, there is not enough information about what is happening... Let's follow it.


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