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Auschwitz museum asks for donation of items from Germans, Austrians

Until now the museum has pieced together its historical perspective mostly from camp documents and prisoner accounts. Now museum directors are making an open call for relevant personal documents, such as family letters.

The memorial museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau is urging Germans and Austrians to donate any material that might shed light on the people who operated the camp.

Museum director Piotr Cywinski appealed for "documents, photos, personal letters, diaries, or other materials" that might help historians understand the mentality of those who perpetrated the Holocaust.

The hope, he said, is "to better understand the influence of populist mechanisms of hatred for human beings."

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Museum Director Piotr Cywinski said the historical knowledge of what happened at Auschwitz comes mainly from former prisoners, preserved camp documentation and post-war court trials. He said the archives currently "contain very few private materials created by members of the SS staff."

The ruins of gas chambers, crematoriums and barracks at the site bear witness to Nazi Germany's killing of around 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, at the camp built in 1940 in the southern city of Oswiecim in occupied Poland.

Oral testimony and documents

An estimated 232,000 Auschwitz victims were children.

"Without a comprehensive analysis and understanding of the motivation and mentality of the perpetrators, our efforts to wisely counsel future generations will only remain intuitive. Today, we ask you to help," Cywinski said on the museum's website.

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The materials the museum has in its possession "are insufficient to fully understand the greatest tragedy in the history of Europe," Cywinski said.

He also guaranteed anonymity for anyone who "wishes to support our efforts to better understand the influence of populist mechanisms of hatred for human beings."

bik/gsw (AP, AFP)

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