Thousands of personal items snatched from those murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz have at last been returned to the memorial after an exhaustive search.
Items including thermometers, empty bottles of medicines, jewellery, cutlery, watches, brushes, tobacco pipes, lighters and keys are among a huge number of items finally tracked down by researchers from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
In most cases, they were the last belongings of Jewish people taken from them before they were lead to their deaths in the gas chambers at the death camp in German-occupied Poland.
Elżbieta Cajzer, head of the Museum Collections, explained: "In 1967, on the site of the former Birkenau camp Andrzej Brzozowski made a short documentary film 'Archaeology', showing the process of the excavations near the ruins of the gas chamber and crematorium III. As a result of these works, which were shown in the video, a large number of original objects were found from the period of functioning of the camp.
"The register of the Museum Collections only shows slightly more than 400 objects from these excavations. We were convinced, however, that it had to be much more. We began the several months' investigation by verifying archival documentation."
Auschwitz Museum director, Dr Piotr M. A. Cywiński, added: "Individually verified trails were broken; people working then in the Museum were no longer there. Unfortunately the author of the film has already died, the institutions which created the movie have changed, and the archives were silent. Nevertheless, we checked every lead.
"We could not be certain whether the results of the archaeological research had not been squandered or fragmented. After all, almost 50 years have passed; Polish institutions have undergone thorough changes after the fall of communism. We took into account and were prepared for any eventuality."
But eventually, they had some success.
Cajzer said: "However, we succeeded in making contact with the last living persons who participated in the project almost 50 years ago. It was, however, uncertain where the items found during creation of the movie had been deposited. It turned out that they are stored in 48 cardboard boxes at one of the buildings of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
"Most of them the entire time were packed in individually marked boxes which is today very important for the process of documentation and verification of the authenticity, as they indicate the place of finding or precise information about an individual object."
Cywiński said that he assumed that the items had been stored with the intention of then analysing and studying them.
He said: ‘I had considered the discovery of such a huge collection in whole after nearly half a century as unlikely as finding the treasure of the lost Galleon. I can only try to imagine why the lost objects were deposited in these boxes just after digging up. The excavations were carried out in the summer of 1967, near the gas chambers and crematoria.
"Presumably, they were supposed to be analysed and studied, or perhaps someone even had the intention to write an extensive research paper on the subject. This is a unique collection in every way. Meanwhile, a few months later, there was a political turnabout in 1968 and the communist authority took a clearly anti-Semitic course. Perhaps, that is why they did not hurry with the implementation and closure of this project. The times then were difficult for topics related to the Holocaust."
He added: "This is an unexpected, totally unique day in the newest history of our Museum."
The items will now be studied by experts and documented.
The news comes not long after staff at the museum made a poignant discovery when they found jewellery hidden behind the false bottom of a mug.
Work was being carried out to preserve some of the 12,000 pieces of enamelled kitchenware from the death camp, when the astonishing discovery was made.