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Destinations · Europe · poland · Warsaw · Museums and galleries ·

Katyn Museum

Author: Anothertravelguide.com0 COMMENTS

Katyn Museum

The Katyn Museum, a memorial commemorating the victims of the Katyn massacre, is located within the 19th-century Warsaw Citadel complex in the south of the city. The museum’s project, created by the Polish firm BBGK Architekci and completed in 2016, has been shortlisted for the Mies van der Rohe Award 2017.

The Katyn massacre is one of the darkest hours in Polish history. In the spring of 1940 the Soviet secret police ordered the execution of captured members of the Polish officer corps. As a result, more than 20,000 people were brutally shot in the Katyn forest, among them 760 doctors, 1040 teachers, more than 100 lawyers, and other members of the Polish elite, including distinguished athletes, writers, engineers, musicians, and artists.

Foto: Katyn Museum

The Katyn Museum is designed as a huge park with 100 newly planted trees at its centre. A concrete path winds through this symbolic forest, but the museum buildings themselves are located below ground. Thus visitors proceed as if through a trench, a reminder of the path of death from which the victims will not return. Their bent, grey shapes are projected on the museum walls and quiet steps are audible in the background, while all around are thousands of witnesses to this tragedy – personal relics and everyday items discovered in the excavations of the massacre sites, such as glasses, army overalls, muddy boots, scissors, letters, pencils, notebooks, cigarette cases… Among them is also a display cabinet containing bullet casings, each of which took a human life.

Foto: Katyn Museum

The museum’s two floors are connected by a heavy metal elevator; its doors fall shut with a shrill, slightly disturbing sound, almost like the lid on a coffin. The first part of the exhibition outlines the general events of that time, while the second part relives the history through personal stories. To exit this underground museum, visitors pass through a dark, 20-meter-long ‘tunnel of death’, filled at this time of year with autumn leaves. It’s not so much an exit as a trench with a red-brick wall on one side and a 12-meter-high earth wall on the other. The path is lined with white, concrete pillars on which are engraved the names of professions: scientist, physician, mathematician, philosopher,  lawyer… More reminders of the lives and careers so tragically eradicated.

Foto: Katyn Museum

Next the visitor enters a series of glazed arcades with 15 large, concrete plaques on which the names of all 21,768 persons killed in the Katyn forest are listed. The engraving makes for a terrifyingly decorative pattern. The doors to the arcade are graced with religious symbols indicating the victims’ religious denominations: a Christian cross, a Jewish Star of David, an Islamic crescent moon. A visit to the museum ends with another passageway – a red-granite trench, at the end of which the blue sky appears as a sign of hope. Stairs lead back up above ground, towards a salvation not made accessible to the bodies of the executed but perhaps granted to their souls.

The first thing one sees when emerging into the daylight are the golden trees and a large oak cross. According to the architects, they wished to incorporate three existential quantities in the Katyn Museum: evil, good, and forgiveness.

Jana Jeziorańskiego 4, 01-783 Warszawa

11/2017

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