Holocaust Remembrance Day: The Aesthetics of Traumatic Memory

On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau – the largest Nazi concentration camp of World War II – was liberated by the Red Army, making that date symbolic of the end of the Holocaust. Sixty years later, on November 1, 2005, it was designated as the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust after the passage of UN Resolution A/RES/60/7.

One of the most tragic episodes in human history, the Holocaust is no longer a raw, open wound but remains a scar that reminds us of the genocide committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people, Romani people, disabled persons, homosexuals and other victims that didn’t fit into Hitler’s plan for an ethnically pure Reich. Hitler’s identification and attempt to purge “the other” from society has troubling echoes in some of the political rhetoric we hear today, making this day of remembrance an important time to reflect on what can happen when hate speech and discrimination are tolerated or condoned, especially from those in positions of power. For the victims of the Holocaust, the survivors, their families – remembering isn’t voluntary, not something to be done once a year, nor something that needs a UN resolution to legitimise. In Poland, the territory where the Nazis carried out and attempted to hide the worst of their crimes, the question of how to confront, commemorate and honour the victims of the Holocaust has been taking place since the moment the war ended, even before. Countless memorials, monuments, mausoleums, museums, plaques and other tokens of remembrance have been erected across the country – some large, some small, some old, some new, some cared for, some neglected, all of them present and meant to preserve the memory of the horrors that can happen when humankind loses its humanity.

These are only some of those objects and places in Poland connected to the memory of the Holocaust.


Memorial of Torn-Out Hearts →

Unveiled in 1964 in Płaszów Concentration Camp, this monolithic memorial depicts five figures (the five countries of Płaszów’s victims) with heads bent under the weight of the massive stone block from which they’re carved and a horizontal crack across their chests, symbolising their abruptly ended lives.

This public square in Podgórze was located within the Kraków Ghetto and was the site of families being torn apart, mass deportations to the death camps, beatings and executions.

Hujowa Górka →

The name is a vulgar bit of Polish word play between the name of the SS officer who ordered the first executions here (Albert Hujar) and the Polish word for the male member; a print-friendly translation would be ‘Prick’s Hill.’


Memorial for the First Transport of Prisoners to Auschwitz →

Unveiled on June 14th, 1975, the communist-era memorial remembers the first transport of victims bound for Auschwitz. The wrought iron frieze of figures on the front represents the victims being marched at gunpoint.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial 

The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial was unveiled in 1967. The plaques on the floor read in several languages: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940 – 1945″


Synagogue Memorial →

The city’s once magnificent main synagogue – torched on Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) – says enough, with only a small memorial remembering where it once stood at ul. Łąkowa 6.

Stained glass windows at the Gross-Rosen Museum →

Gross-Rosen owes its existence and its location to the granite quarry located directly next to the camp, where camp’s prisoners were assigned to work.


Monument to the Great Synagogue (Pomnik Synagogi) →

The city’s Great Synagogue was destroyed by fire by the Nazis on September 14, 1939. What remains is this small monument, dedicated to the memory of the Katowice Jews who perished during WWII and unveiled in July 1998.


The Children of Bałuty – Memorial Murals (Dzieci Bałut) →

Created using archive images of the time, these murals depict the children that were interned within the children’s camps during WWII in the Jewish Ghetto located in the northern district of Bałuty in Łódź.

Child Martyrs Monument (Pomnik Martyrologii Dzieci) →

Depicting an emaciated figure staring through a cracked white heart, the monument is dedicated to the 1,600 children who were processed through the Polish children’s camp once found on these grounds.


Ghetto Heroes Monument (Pomnik Bohaterów Getta) →

Designed by Leon Suzin and sculpted by Nathan Rapoport in 1948, close by stands an earlier memorial tablet to the Ghetto Heroes, also by Suzin, which was unveiled in 1946.

Willy Brandt ‘Kniefall’ Monument →

The place where German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt in pensive apology in front of Warsaw’s Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. The spontaneous gesture was to become a symbol of reconciliation between east and west.

Umschlagplatz →

A bleak, slightly disappointing monument marking the spot where around 300,000 Jews were loaded on cattle waggons bound for Treblinka.

Jewish Ghetto Wall Fragment →

If you duck into the courtyard at ul. Sienna 55 (or from ul. Złota 62) you will see a remaining part of the ghetto wall complete with a commemorative plaque.

Janusz Korczak →

There are three monuments to Janusz Korczak, the most poignant of which shows Korczak leading his children (one small child clings to his neck) and stands in the Jewish Cemetery at ul. Okopowa. The others can be found on ul. Jaktorowska and in the park next to the Palace of Culture.

Palmiry – The National Memorial Museum →

During WWII the forests of Palmiry and Kampinos became the site for 21 separate mass executions performed by German soldiers against 1,700 Poles and Jews.

Treblinka Memorial →

Marking the site of the gas chamber in Treblinka stands an overpowering monument designed by Franciszek Duszenki, a message in front of it simply stating: “Never Again.”


A memorial to the inmates of one of Poznań’s Nazi labour camps stands at what is now the Righteous Among the Nations Square (Jewish Poznan) → 


Monument to the Evacuated Children (Pomnik Kindertransportu) →

Sculptor Frank Meisler was one of 124 Jewish children evacuated on transports from Gdańsk who managed to survive the Holocaust. On May 6, 2009 his memorial to this exodus was unveiled outside Gdańsk Główny train station.


Other memorials in former Nazi extermination camps

Bełżec Memorial & Museum

Majdanek →

Sobibór →


Chełmno Museum & Memorial →

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