There has been some negotiation on smaller items such as shoes and suitcases, with the Americans only too happy to part with some of the latter for fear of relatives who may recognise the names of their murdered ancestors (scrawled on their luggage in their hope of them eventually being returned) and claim them back. A solution was keep the suitcases with names obscured or even obscure them. After decades of squabbling over treasure looted by the Nazis, we now have this absurd battle over remnants of Nazi killing machine itself. The original owners of the barracks were arguabley the Nazis, the new owners the Poles, but what claim might the surviviors and relatives of those who were incarcerated and murdered in the barracks and surroundings have in this legacy?
I'm indebted to documentary film maker Martin Smith, who was Exhibition Director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington from 1988 to 1990 and who introduced the barrack as part of the Museum's narrative, for bringing the dispute to my attention and providing me with background information. If Martin is correct in identifying that US citizens have recently given the Poles $65,000,000 "to ensure the long term preservation of historic artifacts at Auschwitz and elsewhere", it does seem rather churlish not to let the Washington Museum keep their half a barrack. Firstly because there must be thousands of relatives of survivors and those killed in Birkenau living in America to whom the exhibition is an important focus for remembrance. And secondly, its not as though their aren't enough barracks in Birkenau . . .
When I visited the site myself, what fascinated me was the way in which visitors took away with them small 'souvenirs' such as pieces of brick, fragments of glass, pieces of metal, stones, etc. I wondered how many years it would take before the museum disappeared altogether.
For a thoroughgoing critique on the absurdity of Holocaust tourism, see Angela Morgan Cutler's Auschwitz and Abigail Rine's response.