Visitors to Auschwitz are taking in more than just the experience of being at the infamous concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland—they’re taking actual artifacts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Last month, an Italian tourist was arrested at the airport for attempting to smuggle 16 inches of barbed wire from the concentration camp out of the country. Now, according to the Telegraph, the rise in acts of vandalism and theft at the museum has stymied administrators.
Visitors of all ages, apparently, have been scratching their names onto the walls where prisoners slept. “I had a smoke here,” one vandal wrote. Others have stolen “souvenirs” from the camp, including spikes from the railway line that transported thousands of Jews to Auschwitz.
“This is shocking,” said Antoni Dudek, a Polish historian and a board member of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, an organization charged with investigating wartime crimes. “This isn’t really vandalism because vandalism is something you do to a bus stop. This is barbarism.”
The large grounds of the former concentration camp make patrolling and preventing these crimes difficult. However Poland’s culture ministry is opposed to the installation of a CCTV system, arguing that the presence of surveillance cameras would be a troubling distraction to visitors.
But Bogdan Bartnikowski, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Holocaust, believes that the vandalism would stop immediately if visitors understood what really took place at the historical site they were visiting.
“If they had been there and feared they would be leaving the next day via the chimney, then they would not be so eager to scratch their name onto a bunk,” he told the Guardian.
Hannah Dreyfus is an editorial intern at Tablet.