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No Place to do Business

The Polish city home to Auschwitz has angered one of the world's largest Jewish organizations by granting permission to open a shopping center near the former Nazi death camp.


Auschwitz and Janusz Marszalek, the man behind the controversial plan

The verbal and written skirmishes between the city of Oscwiecim and the Simon Wiesenthal Center are anything but new.

The Los Angeles-based organization has protested each time officials in the small Polish town have attempted to build near or on land where Jews suffered Nazi aggression during World War II.

In recent years, the Center has had success stopping the construction of a discoteque on land once occupied by a textile mill where Jews were forced laborers. But a more than five-year battle to stop the opening of an "Auschwitz Mall" near the death camp looks to end in failure.

City officials on Monday gave the Maja construction company approval to open the shopping center on Monday of next week, prompting a fiery letter of protest from the center.

"There are, apparently, no limits to the schemes of Auschwitz city councilors for profit making from the death campsite," read the letter from Wiesenthal Center liaison Shimon Samuels to the Polish president. "Attempts first for a cigarette factory, then a discotheque and now a shopping mall."

Advocates for the shopping center say the plans have changed since they first incited protest in 1996. The owner said he has modified the plans so that they now cater mainly to visitors of the death camp.

"The complex includes a car park, post office, book shop, chemists's and fast food bar, and that has made it possible to remove such businesses from the Auschwitz grounds," Janusz Marszalek told Reuters.

The businessman hopes that placates the Center. His construction company has already had to sue in a local court after Polish authorities stopped construction in 1996, putting the company in a financial bind. A Polish court awarded them $465,000 (522,948 euro) last year.

Locals are also hoping the debate has come to an end.

"If you agree with the reasoning of the Wiesenthal Center, then all of Oswiecim should be cut off from life," said Jerzy Wroblewski, the director of memorials in the region.

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