Chilling exhibit The Evidence Room recreates a Nazi gas chamber

Why would architect Robert Jan van Pelt recreate a Nazi gas chamber? He talks to Shad about the value - and ethics - of recreating hurtful objects.
Waterloo Architecture students Alexandru Vilcu, Siobhan Allman, Anna Longrigg, and Piper Bernbaum review the Auschwitz Crematorium evidence plans with Waterloo Architecture Professor and The Evidence Room Co-Principal Robert Jan van Pelt. (Fred Hunsberger)

In 1993, historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote a book criticizing a movement of people who had either downplayed the significance, or denied entirely, the Holocaust. One of her targets was British historian David Irving.

Irving had argued it was logistically impossible for millions of people to have been gassed to death. He was so convinced he was right that he sued Lipstadt for libel, putting her in the position of having to prove — in court — that the Holocaust did indeed happen.

I realized I had been hunting for the worst thing an architect had ever done, and I saw it right in front of me.- Robert Jan van Pelt, on seeing the completed exhibit for the first time

Professor and Holocaust expert Robert Jan van Pelt was one of her key witnesses.

He's now heading one of Canada's contributions to the upcoming Venice Architecture Biennale, and it emerges directly from the Irving case. 

Detail of a gas door peephole. (Photo by unknown Russian photographer)

The Evidence Room was the combined effort of a team of students and faculty of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture headed by Anne Bordeleau, Sascha Hastings, Donald McKay, and van Pelt.

It features life-sized replicas and casts of key pieces described in his testimony about Auschwitz, including a gas column, gas door, a section of wall with a gas-tight hatch and other items that definitively proved the site was a factory of death.

Van Pelt joins Shad to talk about his project, and why it's important to give visitors a tactile representation of a chilling chapter of human history.

Waterloo Architecture students Anna Beznogova and Anna Longrigg prepare a mould for casting for part of The Evidence Room project. (Piper Bernbaum)