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BRITARCH  July 2003

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Subject:

Re: : private collecting by archaeologists: was in praise of metal detecting: w...

From:

Paul Barford <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 18 Jul 2003 10:29:09 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (149 lines)

> Well there we have it dont we.  In your own words for all to read you
> admit to owning a artifact from Birkenaue.
> 1. Did you have permission to remove this item or barbed wire from the
> monument my guess is that you did not, perhaps you obtained it from
someone
> who did, I doubt this as well. And then again you may have purchased it
from a
> thief .
Well actually your accusations are ungrounded. In fact I obtained it when I
was on the site a couple of years ago as part of a Ministry of Culture and
ICOMOS commission involved in the redefinition of a conservation policy for
the camp and the area around it ( a subject I have written about before on
this list ). One of the problems being addressed is the degree to which the
original fabric of the camp must be (and indeed can be) preserved and the
degree to which new elements must be added to maintain its integrity as a
monument. In the case of the perimeter fences we have attempted conservation
of the original reinforced concrete posts which are falling apart as the
internal ironwork corrodes in the damp conditions which is proving very
difficult (but there have been what seem to be some successes). The barbed
wire however is more difficult, and has been the subject of much discussion
(not to say heated discussion). The original wire was not galvanised and has
a short life (the camp was as you probably know relatively improvised and it
was not envisaged that it would stand for more than a few years and so
therefore the materials used in its construction were not chosen with any
particular care which makes conservation doubly difficult). Given the state
which this material is in, there are two options. The first to replace it
with new (galvanised) wire, the second to let the old wire corrode away by
natural processes and just leave the posts. The study of the samples
collected by several conservation commissions on site (like the one I have
retained) show that the original is so corroded that any conservation
methods to retain it in situ would not likely be very effective. It is very
brittle and will eventually break under its own weight. It was decided to
put new wire in to make the fence-lines legible so the visitor can
appreciate it as a camp. My own feelings are however that we run the danger
of making it look too much like a film set, producing a Disneyland version
of the camp by replacing all the wire wood and corroded brickwork. Already
this is the impression one gets (at least I get) from the side visible from
the main visitor car park. These are very difficult problems. So yes, I did
have permission and it was taken as one of a number of samples from the wire
which already lay collapsed in the grass at the foot of one of the posts and
which has been used in discussions on the conservation of a portion of the
monument, and instead of chucking it away afterwards like any other sample,
I have it at home with copies of  the other documentation concerning my part
in these discussions. I do not know what happened to all of the other
samples of concrete and other materials taken from the site during these
discussions.

> I am from a Jewish background and I find it unthinkable that any normal
> person would wish to have this item in there possession.
And this reflects my own disquiet about the wire. I think the wire from
these fences does have a symbolic meaning and do wonder if loading it onto
skips to be dumped in landfill as so much urban rubbish was the right fate
for it. If its any consolation to your Jewish feelings, this wire actually
comes from the portion of the site reserved for the Hungarian gypsies. It
also is a twenty-centimetre length of several tens of kilometres of wire
used in the camp originally. The other problem is that its is by no means
certain that this is the original wire, since the wire has been replaced on
parts of the fence in the five decades after the liberation of the camp and
its not at all clear what was actually done in the post-War years to
conserve and present the site. This could be Stalinist or later rather than
Nazi wire. The point is though that whatever it is, it is corroded beyond
saving.

I think your reaction reflects the general difficulties which have
surrounded any attempts to take conservation decisions about this particular
site. If this was a piece of the (vanished) perimeter fence of Hitler's
Wolfschanz bunker (another site which in my days in the Ministry of Culture
I have been involved in discussions over) it would arouse few emotions. The
very name Auschwitz however immediately puts a different cast on any
discussion and arouses emotions before the issue at hand has even been fully
presented. In particular there is a tendency for certain interest groups to
assume that they have a specific "right" to the site, when in fact (as the
site museum shows convincingly) no single nation or group can regard it as
their exclusive shrine.

> I feel you have been very foolish  to announce to the world you have this
> item and would suggest  you return it as soon as possible to the
appropiate
> authorities so they can decide what to do with it.
Well, foolishly or not, I have nothing to hide and I certainly do not intend
chucking it in the rubbish bin, very probably some of the material (photos,
documentation) deriving from my small role in these commissions will one day
be deposited in the Auschwitz on-site museum (the museum carrying out the
conservation work on the site and who have been engaged in carting away the
rest of the wire from the fence from which this sample came so I do not
think they would be very interested in receiving this small segment just
yet. they have enough of their own to get rid of). I will not be able to
deposit this material before I have written something on their basis when
the current conservation programme is complete and we can assess its effects
(I may need a photo of the state of this wire sample for the article). But
yes, you are right, I have always thought it should be preserved, it may
well turn out to be the only fragment of this wire that survived the
refurbishment of the perimeter fence for example.

> Perhaps it should be in the National Jewish Holocaust museum .
Which one did you have in mind? Also is Auschwitz purely a Jewish monument?
This view is one of the most likely to generate conflict and stems from a
misunderstanding of the role of the two camps and their subsidiaries in the
Nazi war-machine. There is much more to these sites than the selection ramps
and crematoria which tend to monopolise popular conceptions of them. The
chairman of our commission professor Pawlikowski carried a photo of his
uncle in his wallet which he made a point of showing all the Jewish
activists who would insist on having a monopoly on the discussion of the
Commission on this or that aspect. His uncle also died in the camp and was
as Polish as they come. My wife's non-Jewish uncle also died there as did
very many thousands of non-Jews.

> Before you throw rocks Paul you should check  your own greenhouse.
Personally I think the windows of my metaphorical greenhouse are not
particularly damaged by the rocks you have attempted to throw at them. The
sample of wire in my possession (custodianship) is there because of the
active role I have taken in the protection and preservation of part of the
World Heritage (Auschwitz is on the World Heritage List), a role which  do
not regard as completed (and indeed a role which this particular piece of
wire has not yet completed). You have claimed on this list that metal
detectorists play a role in the protection of the heritage by their
collecting activities, but your only comments on the subject have so far
involved your baseless accusations about my piece of wire.

Now instead of casting aspersions, perhaps you would like to answer the same
question yourself.

If you are so concerned about the fate of the Auschwitz site, the
conservation work is very costly and donations to the museum or the
provincial historical monuments conservator are always welcome !

In a further message purportedly on the same topic the same person comments:
> Paul I note that all your replays to messages are during working hours!!
> Are you paying for this or perhaps your bosses >???
I really do not see the relevance of this type of personal remark to the
topic under discussion; perhaps instead of sniping you would like to make a
contribution to the discussion (since however you ask, nobody but myself is
out of pocket by my use of the Britarch list).

Paul Barford


PS the notion incorporated in your letter that there are "thieves" from whom
one might purchase a fragment of Auschwitz says volumes for the nature of
your concept of the mentality of the collector and dealer. As far as we know
"thieves" do not operate on the Birkenau site, though many young Jewish
visitors to the site have been observed to take small pebbles from the
gravel metalling of the 'Death road' to take home perhaps for members of the
family unable to make the journey . Would you have them too return this
material to "the appropriate authorities"? Or perhaps in this case this is
indeed a legitimate use of the site and wear and tear that should be taken
into account given its nature (actually this gravel is in part a relatively
recent replacement of the original).

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