Auschwitz to Reopen to Visitors July 1 With Social Distancing and 'Sanitation Gate'

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The site of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz on January 27, 2020.
The site of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz on January 27, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Nora Savosnick/File Photo

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum will be open to visitors again on July 1 with regulations in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a press release said Wednesday.

Guided tours will be allowed to have no more than 15 people, while the number of people on the site will be limited. Visitors will also have to maintain distance between one another and cover their faces indoors. The museum is also introducing a pay what you want system despite financial difficulties caused by the lack of visitors during the pandemic, museum Director Piotr M. A. Cywiski said.

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A new tour route will minimize the areas in which visitors come into contact and will be allowed to move inside buildings only along a one-way route. 

"Several places on the Museum grounds have also been equipped with devices for contactless hand sanitation, and a special sanitation gate has been placed in front of the entrance," the museum said. 

News of the new "sanitation gate" raised some eyebrows when it was announced earlier this month, given the fact that all Auschwitz prisoners were disinfected on arrival, while those sent to be killed in the gas chambers were falsely told that they were being taken for disinfection. 

The goal of erecting the gate is to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus, “as well as other viruses and bacteria which can be brought inside, for example on clothes,” according to the museum’s press release on June 2.

The new sanitation gate was developed especially for the Polish museum. It is a modified version of a device created by the Silesian University of Technology in partnership with a startup in order to help hospitals do their best to remain virus-free. The design won prizes in a competition run by the World Health Organization and World Tourism Organization.

“We are happy that we are going to be the first museum in the world to apply this innovative solution,” said the museum’s director, Piotr Cywiski.

Dr. Anna Wawrzyk, an epidemiologist working for the Auschwitz museum, said the process of being disinfected at the museum’s entrance will take less time than the original model takes in hospitals. The type of disinfectant is also different: in hospitals, it is chlorine-based, while the museum will use hydrogen peroxide.

It has also been adapted for the large number of visitors coming to the site daily. As they enter, they will be told what to do as they move through the automated disinfection system.

“During group visits, the pump is activated after the first person enters the gate, while each next person detected by a laser sensor enables the nozzles and signals on the light panel,” said Magdalena Bogacka, coordinator of the disinfection gate design team.

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