Poignant discovery made beneath the floorboards of Auschwitz during renovation work

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By stefan armitage

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A significant and poignant discovery has recently emerged from beneath the floorboards of Auschwitz I, shedding new light on the lives of prisoners at one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious concentration camps.

GettyImages-3303531.jpgCredit: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty

The Auschwitz concentration camp, established in 1940 initially for Polish political prisoners, later expanded into a symbol of Nazi terror and genocide.

Over 1.1 million people, primarily Jews, but also Romani, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and others deemed undesirable by the regime, perished within its walls.

As a result of the camp’s horrendous history, historical significance is rightfully bestowed on every artifact found within its confines. And now, a new discovery has shone a new light on the prisoners' will to survive.

During renovations at the historic Block 8, located within the Auschwitz I complex in Poland, workers uncovered more than 30 handmade chess pieces carefully hidden away - likely to evade detection by Nazi guards during World War II.

Screenshot 2024-06-30 at 14.07.56.jpgHandmade chess pieces were found underneath floorboards. Credit: Auschwitz Museum

The discovery - consisting of 35 cardboard squares bearing hand-drawn chess figures - offers a somber glimpse into the daily struggles and attempts at normalcy among the camp’s inmates.

Elżbieta Cajzer, head of the Auschwitz Museum’s Collections, described the pieces as remarkably preserved despite their age of nearly 80 years.

"Several drawings may be slightly faded, but the representations of rooks, pawns, bishops, and knights remain distinguishable,” Cajzer remarked on the official Auschwitz Museum website. “While the set is incomplete and some pieces show signs of wear, our initial assessment indicates they are in a good state of preservation.

"They will undergo conservation to ensure their long-term protection."

Screenshot 2024-06-30 at 14.08.52.jpgThe pieces were made to be easily hidden. Credit: Auschwitz Museum

The chess set’s construction from rudimentary materials like prefabricated cardboard underscores its utilitarian purpose — functionality, portability, and the ability to be concealed swiftly if discovered.

This makeshift craftsmanship highlights the prisoners’ resourcefulness and their determination to find moments of solace amid the relentless brutality of Auschwitz.

Magdalena Urbaniak, part of the New Main Exhibition team at Auschwitz Museum, emphasized the importance of leisure activities like chess as rare respites from the horrors of daily life in the camp.

“Chess and other games provided a mental escape for prisoners, a brief respite from the harsh realities they faced,” Urbaniak explained. “Often, these games were crafted clandestinely using materials obtained illegally or salvaged from confiscated belongings of those who arrived at Auschwitz.”

GettyImages-80931788.jpgCredit: Chris Jackson / Getty

Survivor testimonies, such as that of Jan Dziopek, who worked in Auschwitz’s carpentry shop, provide firsthand accounts of the risks prisoners took to create such diversions.

“I received numerous orders for chess pieces, even from SS personnel, which I fulfilled reluctantly,” Dziopek recounted, per News.com.au. "However, fulfilling these orders allowed me to aid fellow prisoners covertly, exchanging my work for essential food rations. The penalties for such activities were severe, but the opportunity to offer some solace to my fellow inmates made the risks worthwhile."

The chess pieces discovered beneath Block 8’s floorboards are now featured in an upcoming exhibition focused on prisoner life within Auschwitz. This exhibition aims to honor the memory of those who endured unimaginable suffering while offering a glimpse into their moments of humanity and resilience.

Each piece tells a story of survival, resistance, and the enduring human spirit amidst history’s darkest chapters.

Featured image credit: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty

Poignant discovery made beneath the floorboards of Auschwitz during renovation work

vt-author-image

By stefan armitage

Article saved!Article saved!

A significant and poignant discovery has recently emerged from beneath the floorboards of Auschwitz I, shedding new light on the lives of prisoners at one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious concentration camps.

GettyImages-3303531.jpgCredit: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty

The Auschwitz concentration camp, established in 1940 initially for Polish political prisoners, later expanded into a symbol of Nazi terror and genocide.

Over 1.1 million people, primarily Jews, but also Romani, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and others deemed undesirable by the regime, perished within its walls.

As a result of the camp’s horrendous history, historical significance is rightfully bestowed on every artifact found within its confines. And now, a new discovery has shone a new light on the prisoners' will to survive.

During renovations at the historic Block 8, located within the Auschwitz I complex in Poland, workers uncovered more than 30 handmade chess pieces carefully hidden away - likely to evade detection by Nazi guards during World War II.

Screenshot 2024-06-30 at 14.07.56.jpgHandmade chess pieces were found underneath floorboards. Credit: Auschwitz Museum

The discovery - consisting of 35 cardboard squares bearing hand-drawn chess figures - offers a somber glimpse into the daily struggles and attempts at normalcy among the camp’s inmates.

Elżbieta Cajzer, head of the Auschwitz Museum’s Collections, described the pieces as remarkably preserved despite their age of nearly 80 years.

"Several drawings may be slightly faded, but the representations of rooks, pawns, bishops, and knights remain distinguishable,” Cajzer remarked on the official Auschwitz Museum website. “While the set is incomplete and some pieces show signs of wear, our initial assessment indicates they are in a good state of preservation.

"They will undergo conservation to ensure their long-term protection."

Screenshot 2024-06-30 at 14.08.52.jpgThe pieces were made to be easily hidden. Credit: Auschwitz Museum

The chess set’s construction from rudimentary materials like prefabricated cardboard underscores its utilitarian purpose — functionality, portability, and the ability to be concealed swiftly if discovered.

This makeshift craftsmanship highlights the prisoners’ resourcefulness and their determination to find moments of solace amid the relentless brutality of Auschwitz.

Magdalena Urbaniak, part of the New Main Exhibition team at Auschwitz Museum, emphasized the importance of leisure activities like chess as rare respites from the horrors of daily life in the camp.

“Chess and other games provided a mental escape for prisoners, a brief respite from the harsh realities they faced,” Urbaniak explained. “Often, these games were crafted clandestinely using materials obtained illegally or salvaged from confiscated belongings of those who arrived at Auschwitz.”

GettyImages-80931788.jpgCredit: Chris Jackson / Getty

Survivor testimonies, such as that of Jan Dziopek, who worked in Auschwitz’s carpentry shop, provide firsthand accounts of the risks prisoners took to create such diversions.

“I received numerous orders for chess pieces, even from SS personnel, which I fulfilled reluctantly,” Dziopek recounted, per News.com.au. "However, fulfilling these orders allowed me to aid fellow prisoners covertly, exchanging my work for essential food rations. The penalties for such activities were severe, but the opportunity to offer some solace to my fellow inmates made the risks worthwhile."

The chess pieces discovered beneath Block 8’s floorboards are now featured in an upcoming exhibition focused on prisoner life within Auschwitz. This exhibition aims to honor the memory of those who endured unimaginable suffering while offering a glimpse into their moments of humanity and resilience.

Each piece tells a story of survival, resistance, and the enduring human spirit amidst history’s darkest chapters.

Featured image credit: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty