Editor’s note: Paul Salmons is one of the Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. curators, and a contributing author of the exhibition’s audio guide. We asked him about how he chose artifacts to include in the exhibition.
I see the role of curators firstly being one of responsibility.
But that responsibility gets pulled in a number of different directions. There is clearly a responsibility to the history. To tell the history fully, accurately, responsibly, and as honestly as we are able to do so from the evidence that we have available. To be able to narrate that history in its complexity and in its fullness.
But there is a responsibility also to the visitor. When you are narrating a story of atrocity and destruction, some of the depths the worst of humanity, how do you support a visitor as they are going through an exhibition like that? How do you move them without traumatizing them?
It’s important that we don’t sanitize this history but we also of course don’t want to incapacitate the visitor. We need them to be able to go through this exhibition and to learn deeply. So the responsibility to the history and the responsibility to the visitor are the foremost of our minds.
There is a responsibility also to the victims and the survivors. That means that when we make curatorial choices we are always trying to balance this history of destruction, which can be seen as maybe sometimes unfortunately people arrive on the historical stage to be victims. Clearly that is not the case. People had their own personal histories. They had their own biographies. They had their homes and their lives and their loves.
We want to try to show the real people behind this destruction and give them a voice as well.
In terms of how we choose the artifacts and the photographs and the stories that we display, we want to try to show not only how the Holocaust happened and how Auschwitz came to be, but also how people responded in myriad diverse ways to that unfolding genocide. Stories of resistance and resilience and courage.