The curators' concept
The new Austrian exhibition in Block 17 of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau bears the title “Far Removed. Austria and Auschwitz”. The notion “far removed” refers to the geographical distance between Austria and Auschwitz, which was part of the Nazi strategy to conceal the genocide. At the same time, removal was synonymous with extermination: it meant the physical removal of the deportees – from Austria and from the realm of the living.
The exhibition focuses on this notion of being “far removed”, bringing the historical origins of the events in Austria and their culmination in Auschwitz closer to the visitors. In order to grasp this notion not only intellectually, but also visually and tangibly, the main elements of the exhibition consist of two interdependent and interrelated levels: “Here” (Auschwitz) and “There” (Austria).
“Here” tells of the Austrian victims and perpetrators from the moment of their arrival in Auschwitz. The genuine artifacts, contained in vitrines, are embedded in their immediate spatial context – at the location of the atrocities. “There” is dedicated to Nazism in Austria, its early history, the Anschluss, the development and structure of the Nazi reign of terror and the key figures involved, and the fates of the persecuted. This part of the exhibition, which will also be presented using artifacts in vitrines, is not actually there. Instead, it will be projected onto screens.
The part of the exhibition dealing with the historical developments in Austria and, as such, everything prior to and far from Auschwitz (in "There") is virtual, in Auschwitz only a mirage and distant memory. The fragile threads connecting the two places, times and worlds are ripped apart. For those deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, their only reality was the system in the camp, which dictated who would live and who would die.
The new exhibition “Far Removed. Austria and Auschwitz” portrays the fates of the Austrian victims in Auschwitz, the acts of resistance carried out by Austrian inmates there and the involvement of Austrians as perpetrators of and accessories to the atrocities committed there.
With this special concept the curatorial team is stepping up to meet the challenges presented by the circumstances unique to Austrian history and by the need to firmly anchor the exhibition at the international memorial Auschwitz Birkenau. In contrast to the exhibitions of other countries, which all had in common their occupation by the Nazis, the starting point for the Austrian exhibition is a different one, due to the shared responsibility of large swathes of the Austrian population for the perpetration of Nazi crimes. People who lived in Austria were ruthlessly persecuted and murdered, becoming victims of the Nazi atrocities. Yet equally, people who lived in Austria or had been politically and societally socialized there were actively involved in the genocidal barbarism – some prominently, other less so. The portrayal of the entangled history of Austria’s victims and perpetrators is intended to be a contribution towards adequately conveying Austria’s role in the history of Nazism.