Sered Holocaust Museum
More background info
: For general historical background see also under Slovakia
and Muzeum SNP
in Slovakia went through different phases
. It began shortly after the declaration of independence of Slovakia
in March 1939 (following the 1938 Munich Agreement), by the new nationalistic leadership of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party
under Jozef Tiso
(who succeeded the party founder Andrej Hlinka after his death in August 1938 – see Hlinka mausoleum
). Building on widespread anti-Semitism
, new anti-Jewish laws
and regulations were introduced. Jews were removed from government and administrative jobs. Meanwhile pogroms against Jewish businesses and physical violence increased, especially at the hands of the Hlinka Guards militia.
It also has to be stressed that in Slovakia these repressions and persecutions included Roma (‘gypsies’) from the start. These were seen as just as “undesirable” as Jews.
As of November 1938 Slovakia had to cede
large parts of its southern lands
in accordance with the Munich Agreement and the first Vienna Award and through that about a third of Slovakia’s formerly ca. 140,000 strong Jewish community ended up in that other country (where eventually they’d also fall victim to the genocide – see Holocaust Memorial Center
At the same time there were anti-Semitic riots in Bratislava
as Jews were accused of having supported this territorial shift.
Soon after that the infamous Adolf Eichmann
came to Bratislava and together with Tiso drafted a plans for the deportation of Jews
… after Tiso had himself already used the equivalent to the expression “solution of the Jewish question” in speeches.
A first wave of deportations, mostly of several thousand women and children and the elderly, was eventually halted by Tiso for fear of international criticism.
Yet on the legal front tougher measures were introduced under the banner of “Aryanization”. Jews were dispossessed of agricultural lands in 1940, bank accounts frozen and finally all property taken. The culmination of the anti-Jewish legislation was the so-called “Jewish Codex” of September 1941, which basically stripped all Jews not only of their property but also of any human rights. The laws were proudly hailed by the Slovak regime as the toughest anti-Jewish measures anywhere.
Part of the new legislation was also the obligation of all adult Jews to work manually for the state, and so a number of labour camps were set up, including at Sered in September 1941. Inmates had tasks in various workshops, from sewing, making concrete pipes, metalwork, joinery, etc., to raising Angora rabbits for fur.
A second function of Sered was that of a transit camp
, as from March 1942 mass deportations to camps in the east, in particular Auschwitz
began, affecting some 60,000 Jews in total over the next two years. From Sered close to 5000 Jews were thus dispatched, mostly to their deaths. Hardly any of these deportees survived.
Initially the camp at Sered was overseen by the infamous Hlinka Guard, but later (presumably after the deportations were done), local police replaced them.
When in August 1944 the Slovak National Uprising
began (see Muzeum SNP
!), the remaining prisoners were set free by the police. And many of these freed Jews went on to join the revolt actively.
intervened and brutally and quickly crushed the uprising
, the site at Sered
was in September 1944 taken over
and reactivated by the German Nazis
, now as a proper concentration camp
, under the command of the SS
. It had two roles: in a separate part captured rebels, partisans, communists and alleged sympathizers were incarcerated. On the other hand Sered resumed its role again as a deportation centre in the Holocaust
The infamous Alois Brunner
was appointed (by Adolf Eichmann
, yet again) as camp commandant
and was assigned the task of seeing to the deportation of all remaining Jews from Slovakia. Brunner already had a dark reputation, having organized the deportations of more than a hundred thousand Jews from Austria
, then running the transit camp of Drancy
and playing a major role in the Holocaust
The last transport departed Sered on 31 March 1945. By then up to 12,000 Jews had been deported.
Following the liberation
by the Soviet
Red Army shortly after the last transport, the camp was then more or less forgotten for a long time, its buildings given over to other uses.
It’s been only in recent
years that the present Holocaust museum
at the site was being developed
. I don’t have a reliable exact start year, but some sources hint at possibly 2015 as the start of the development. An initial exhibition in one of the five preserved camp barracks was over later years followed by more exhibitions (see below
). At the time of my visit in October 2023, there were four barracks being used as exhibition spaces, while a fifth one was still inaccessible but it was said that there were plans for it to be turned into another museum part at some point as well. When that might be and what that additional exhibition would be about was not made clear.
So in a way it’s still a work in progress
, but what’s there already clearly makes it the Number One Holocaust-related site in
the whole of Slovakia
. It is run as part of the Slovak National Museum
and the Museum of Jewish Culture
. The official name as announced by the sign at the entrance is “Permanent Exhibition of the Holocaust Museum”, but I stick to the more common and simpler “Sered Holocaust Museum”, as this also includes the place name.
What there is to see: Quite a lot actually, more than I had expected when I finally managed to get to this place in October 2023.
Once you’ve passed through the main gate
by the road you continue along a path taking you to the first
of the original restored stone barrack
s. Outside the first one I found a small open-air exhibition of text-and-photo panels all about the special angle of the Roma
(‘gypsies’) in the Holocaust
and their fate, which was as grim as that of the Jews. Whether this was just a temporary extra exhibition or a new permanent addition I could not determine.
The door to the first barrack is also the general entrance to the museum with the ticket counter, a small museum shop (with all written material in Slovak only, as far as I could tell) and a number of rows of seats in the foyer on which you could sit down to watch a rather elaborate introductory film played on a large LED screen. A good part of this is about the opening ceremony of the site as well as about young Slovaks visiting and meeting survivors.
Then you go into the exhibition
proper. The one in this barrack is the oldest, i.e. the first one set up for when the site first opened to the public a number of years ago. It focuses mostly on the development of anti-Semitism
and how it evolved in the country’s own version of the Holocaust
This exhibition relies mostly on text and image panels
. The main explanatory texts are all bilingual
, in Slovak and with generally good translations into English. The same goes for labels of artefacts. The intro film also has English subtitles. Yet the reproductions of documents and propaganda posters do not come with translations, so it’s not 100% bilingual. It’s a shame in some cases, as for example being able to read what the “Jewish Codex” (see above
) actually spelled out would have been interesting.
A main element in this part are two “walls of names
”, with Jewish victims’ names (plus little Stars of David) etched on to thick glass panels that are arranged in several tiers, horizontally, so the names blur as you try to focus on individual ones. I found it also inviting creative photography (see below
on display are few
in this part of the museum. These include some suitcases
, a pair of tiny children’s shoes
next to a pair of big adult boots, bits of barbed wire
, and a very curious object: an old jar of prunes. The latter had been part of a food package, as distributed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). It was received by one of the survivors of several Nazi concentration camps
) who returned to Slovakia. For some reason she saved the jar unopened, and so it ended up becoming a most unusual museum piece.
In between the general info texts, documents, photos and artefacts are also a few text-and-photo panels with a special focus on particular individuals, which adds a balancing personal angle.
Between the first and second barrack stands a typical railway car apparently used in the deportations of Slovak Jews. It has no wheels but rests on stone blocks. Behind the open sliding door on the side I saw several wreaths, little memorial stones (in that Jewish tradition) and also a couple of crosses.
, more spacious stone barrack
houses an additional, newer exhibition
that focuses mainly on the wider system of the labour camps in Slovakia
, also beyond Sered. The histories of several other camps are covered in some detail here. This exhibition too relies mostly on text-and-photo panels and is bilingual with English translations given throughout, but again, original documents are left untranslated. Among the very few artefacts on display is a fabric carrier bag as was produced by inmates in such labour camps, as well as a number of medals and a large shield from the local command of the Hlinka Guard
), with the initials “HG” in the centre underneath the Slovak national eagle symbol. There’s a dummy guard
made from crude wood wearing a uniform too.
There’s also a section about the Slovak National Uprising
(see Muzeum SNP
) and its brutal crushing by the German Nazis
. The atrocities
committed in the reprisals
are covered in some detail, including that at Nemecka
, as these also involved many Jewish victims. Other panels are concerned with the Einsatzgruppe H
and its hunting down and massacring of Jews from August 1944. Yet more panels are about the subsequent exhumations
from mass graves
and the members of the Hlinka Guard
put on trial
after the war.
The largest item in this part of the museum is a large square block made from bricks and the front part is designated a “memorial wall”. At a station just in front of it you can find little pieces of paper and a couple of pens and a sign invites visitors to write down their thoughts, feelings or prayers and insert them into the wall. Indeed I saw quite a few rolled up messages slid into the round holes in the bricks. But of course you cannot read them. (I presume fishing such a message out would be as good as sacrilegious.)
Inside this brick block another exhibition section was being put together but that was still inaccessible at the time of my visit. This will have the extra title “The dark story of history”, as you could already see at the future entrance. That sign came with a usual do-not-enter symbol just beneath it … as if to say “dark history? Don’t go there!” …
The third barrack
houses another more recent exhibition part and this is the visually most elaborate. It concentrates almost exclusively on the Sered camp itself. There are a few text panels outlining its history, and some special attention is given to the final commandant
of the camp when it was a concentration camp
and deportation centre run by the SS
). This commandant was Alois Brunner
, one of the key architects in the deportations of Jews from Nazi-occupied countries. He evaded capture and facing justice after the war and eventually settled in Syria, which refused to extradite him when he was eventually tried in absentia. He may well have been the longest-living top Nazi
perpetrator, having lived possibly into his late 90s (his exact death date is uncertain, sources vary between 2001 and 2015!); and in interviews he gave in the 1980s he showed no remorse and said he would do it all again. Anti-Semitism can run that deeply …
Anyway, in the exhibition are a few personal items of Brunner’s, such as his suitcase, his hand-wash basin and two of his walking sticks, which apparently he also used to personally pull Jews out the line during the selections.
Otherwise there is a photo collection display, some documents, panels of personal stories of individuals (as in the first exhibition barrack) and a large scale model of the camp. The latter is actually quite lovingly made, with lots of attention to detail.
But the main element in this third exhibition barrack are the quite realistic-looking life-size reconstructions of workshops and living quarters of the inmates of Sered. There’s even a reconstructed little school classroom (and one glass display case has tiny baby shoes of an infant actually born in the camp.) The workshops are of very different natures, for metalwork, carpentry, sewing clothes, making concrete pipes and there’s a three-tier set of rabbit hutches with 18 cages. One of these has a stuffed/dummy Angora rabbit in it. A surprise element of cuteness in this otherwise grim place.
and final barrack
features yet another exhibition. This time it’s about “the physical annihilation of the Jews of Slovakia”, as an intro panel puts it, but it’s also about the Holocaust
more generally and especially about the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” all over Nazi Germany
’s sphere of influence during WWII
All the death camps
and many of the major concentration camps
are given individual small intro text panels
(again bilingual, Slovak and English), there’s a large panel about the Wannsee Conference
with portrait photos of the participants, photos from some of the camps and some grim artefacts
. These include an SS
emblem, several yellow Jewish stars, an example of those typically striped inmate clothes from an unspecified camp, a bar of soap made in Ravensbrück
and, most sinister of all, a small jar from Auschwitz
containing a sample of human skin with a tattooed prisoner number. Other items displayed are stacks of suitcases and there are displays of amassed symbolic shoes made from ceramic (as an art installation rather than as a replica).
More uplifting is the section about survivors
and Slovak helpers
who assisted Jews either by providing hiding places or by helping organize false papers to allow them to flee. This leads into the final section of the museum, which is about the so-called “Righteous Among the Nations
”, who are also honoured at Yad Vashem
There’s a fifth restored barrack but that was still inaccessible at the time of my visit (October 2023). However, it was indicated at the reception that yet another section of the museum will be set up inside there at some point.
Outside you can also peek over the walls and fences to spot some of the unrestored former camp buildings/barracks that do not form part of the memorial museum and look rather derelict.
All in all
, I was surprised at how comprehensive this relatively young museum is in its coverage. The developments of the Slovak part of the Holocaust
is comprehensively documented but the museum goes beyond that too, with some general sections about the Holocaust and the camps elsewhere. While many parts of the museum are quite text-heavy, others are visually impressive, especially all those life-size reconstructions in the third barrack. There were also more video screens in parts other than the intro in the first one; but, as time was pressing on, I did not bother watching those so cannot comment on them. What is largely lacking are those electronic interactive audio, video and touch-screen computer stations that you so often find these days in modern museums that they seem almost obligatory. Well, not here, and I must say, I did not miss any of those …
in the eastern part of the small town of Sered in Slovakia
, a good 30 miles (50 km) north-west of the capital Bratislava
. Address: Kasárenská 1005/54, 926 01 Sereď, Slovakia.
Access and costs: easy enough by car, less so by public transport; an admission fee is charged.
in theory it is possible to get to Sered by public transport (in ca. an hour and a half from Bratislava
), and the museum is actually very close to the train station. However, you can’t walk to it on any short route, since the station, as most of the town, lies to the east of the train line and there is only one crossing, which is quite a bit to the south, so an extra ca. 30 minutes walk is required (which isn’t especially scenic either).
So it’s much more convenient to go by
, which takes about 45 minutes. Coming from Bratislava
leave the city by the main D1 (E58/E75) highway (toll road!), exit at Trnava and proceed south on the R1 (E58) to Sered, then exit and take the road Trnavská cesta. Where this forks as you enter the town, keep left and just before the bridge across the railway line (closed to road traffic at the time of my visit), turn sharp left into Kasárenská. The memorial is on the right-hand side after ca. half a mile (800m). There are a few (free) parking spaces just outside the entrance to the memorial complex.
When I visited the Sered site in October 2023 I went with my partner operator Authentic Slovakia (see their sponsored page here
), which was the most convenient way of doing it.
Opening times: Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Saturdays (Sabbath).
Unlike almost all Holocaust-related memorial sites of concentration camps
, this one at Sered does charge an admission
fee, which at the time of my visit was 7 euros for a normal ticket (3 euros for students/seniors). Nominally there would also have been an extra fee for a photo permit of 2 euros, but for some reason I wasn’t charged that (despite my very visible pro dSLR camera hanging from my neck).
Time required: I spent two hours fifteen minutes in the museum, but I skipped some of the films shown on screens and read many text panels later at home (from my photos); so if you want to watch and read everything there is on-site then you may need substantially longer, possibly three or four hours.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
nothing much in the immediate vicinity – but see under Slovakia
However, those who include industrial urbex in their concept of dark tourism can find a good playground for urbexing at the abandoned ruins of a former Nickel smelter plant just to the south of Sered (location: [48.2692, 17.7413
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Sered lies in the low plains of southern-central Slovakia
and is as such far from being particularly scenic. For that sort of thing you’d have to head to the mountains further north.
Closer by is the quite pleasant capital city Bratislava
, which is well worth a visit too, not just for dark-tourism reasons.
- Sered 01 - row of restored stone barracks
- Sered 02 - first exhibition
- Sered 03 - caged suitcase
- Sered 04 - shoes large and small
- Sered 05 - jar of plums
- Sered 06 - names of victims
- Sered 07 - view out through names
- Sered 08 - model railway car
- Sered 09 - real railway car used in deportations
- Sered 10 - inside the railway car
- Sered 11 - second exhibition
- Sered 12 - Hlinka Guards logo
- Sered 13 - dummy guard
- Sered 14 - bag made in the camp
- Sered 15 - memorial wall
- Sered 16 - you can write little notes
- Sered 17 - and leave them in the bricks of the memorial wall
- Sered 18 - reconstructed interiors in the third exhibition
- Sered 19 - rabbit hutches
- Sered 19 - workshop
- Sered 20 - another workshop
- Sered 21 - making concrete pipes
- Sered 22 - school
- Sered 23 - living quarters
- Sered 24 - not much privacy
- Sered 25 - case of the SS camp commander
- Sered 26 - camp commander hand-wash basin
- Sered 27 - camp commander sticks
- Sered 28 - model of the camp
- Sered 29 - forth exhibition
- Sered 30 - yellow Jewish star
- Sered 31 - stack of cases
- Sered 32 - soap from Ravensbrück
- Sered 33 - sample of tatooed skin
- Sered 34 - striped concentration-camp clothing
- Sered 36 - symbolic ceramic shoes
- Sered 37 - Talmud quote
- Sered 38 - camp buildings not part of the memorial
- Sered 39 - non-restored camp barrack