“The Evidence Room” a Powerful Reminder

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Visitng the Evidence Room – Sheila Robertson, Architect Zachary Colbert, Muriel Korngold Waxler, Judy Young Drache, and Batia Winer.

The Evidence Room,” which summarizes the forensic analysis of the architecture of Auschwitz, was recently on view at Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism. This haunting installation, by Professors Anne Bordeleau, Robert Jan van Pelt, and Donald McKay of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, and independent arts producer Sascha Hastings, features 20 white plaster casts out of the thousands of documents that historian van Pelt introduced as evidence in a libel case in London, England, in 2000 when notorious Holocaust denier David Irving sued historian Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books. Dr. van Pelt’s compelling testimony was key to the outcome of the case, proving that Auschwitz was purposefully designed as a death camp.

Zachary Colbert, a practicing architect, educator, and Practitioner in Residence at Carleton, guided Centre of Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) members Judy Young, Batia Winer, Muriel Korngold Wexler, Sheila Robertson and friend Jennifer Zelmer through the exhibit. “The intent of the architects who designed and constructed Auschwitz-Birkenau is rendered plainly and clearly in the form of white plaster casts of drawings, photographs, and correspondences,” he explained.

The replicas and casts consist of such architectural evidence as a gas column and a gas-tight hatch – both for the introduction of poison into the gas chambers – a gas chamber door, blueprints, architects’ letters, contractors’ bills, and photographs. Taken together, they provide proof … that Auschwitz was a purposefully designed factory of death, equipped with large, homicidal gas chambers and massive incinerators. The work is a silent witness to this chapter of human history, and a reminder of architecture’s complicity in what the text on the wall calls” … the greatest crime that architects have ever committed.”

Judy Young reflected: “As an orphaned child survivor whose close family did not return from Auschwitz, I found the Evidence Room strangely affecting. A deceptively discreet, minimalist, anti-septic in-its-whiteness space as you enter. At first you see nothing except what looks like blank white canvases on the white walls. Get up close to see and you grasp the evidence of carefully planned and executed mass murder: architectural drawings and plans with dates and instructions for building the gas chambers, prisoner huts, and crematoria; documents about Zyklon B gas; detailed drawings showing the gas chamber door opening out of the chamber. And plans showing the redesign of the chamber door; originally the door opened into the chamber but was difficult to open because of the dead bodies piled up against it. One does not need the graphic images we know from documents, books, and films. These understated images in cold plaster are meant to remain permanent in contrast to paper documents and drawings which decay or are lost. This is lasting evidence ‘carved in stone’ of horror and inhumanity – but you have to look carefully and let it sink in.”

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