In Block 17 at Auschwitz’s “Main Camp” in southern Poland, a collection of objects hidden by prisoners has been uncovered beneath a chimney flue.
Whilst carrying out renovation work to turn the former Nazi concentration camp block into an upcoming Austrian exhibition, members of Austria’s National Fund for Victims of National Socialism found “knives, forks, hooks, scissors, pieces of leather, cobbler's tools and parts of shoes” on the ground floor of the building in late April. These latest puzzle pieces of Block 17’s history have been recovered, documented, and handed over to the Auschwitz Museum’s conservation department for further analysis.
Set over several floors, the building was believed to have accommodated chimney sweeps, Johannes Hofmeister, a structural consultant to the National Fund, explained in a statement, therefore the placement of these items is not thought to have been a coincidence. Others in the block also likely had special manual skills, according to the National Fund’s press release. Indeed, survivor testimonies suggest that in the cellar of the building there were workshops set up, where baskets were woven, for example.
These manual activities could have been the reason for the objects’ existence, the National Fund posits, such as making and repairing clothes or picking locks. Alternative possibilities include using scissors and cutlery to barter with other prisoners, and even preparing for an escape. Without a full analysis, however, we cannot be certain of their purpose to the residents of Block 17.
Built in 1941, Block 17 was part of the original camp of Auschwitz, known as Auschwitz I or the “main camp,” situated in occupied southern Poland during World War II. At this site alone, up to 20,000 prisoners were held at once by Nazi Germany. In total more than 40 sub-camps of Auschwitz were founded, including Auschwitz II in Birkenau, which housed the horrifying gas chambers. Over four and a half years, 1.1 million people were murdered in the largest Nazi death camp; the vast majority were Jewish, others were Polish civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma, Sinti, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and political prisoners.
Discoveries such as this one can help to shed light on the atrocities which they had to endure.