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Europe

Poland seeks promises of funds to preserve Auschwitz

The Polish government is calling on other countries to help support the newly-founded Auschwitz-Birkenau foundation, which hopes to raise 120 million euros to maintain the site of the former Nazi death camp.

A trainload of victims destined for Auschwitz concentration camp

A trainload of victims destined for Auschwitz concentration camp where more than a million died

In a letter to the leaders of 39 nations, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called on other countries to support the newly established Auschwitz-Birkenau foundation. The foundation is attempting to raise 120 million Euros ($160 million) to ensure long term maintenance funding for buildings and ruins at the former Nazi death camp.

Polish Prime Minster Donald Tusk

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called upon other nations to support the Auschwitz foundation.

Although the foundation has only been officially in existence for a week, the international response to the request for funds has been positive.

Jacek Kastenlaniec, the managing director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau foundation, told Deutsche Welle that Germany has already pledged a million Euros for the foundation, and plans to contribute much more next year.

"We have an official declaration of France that they will contribute to this endowment fund," Kastenlaniec added, "and two days ago (British Prime Minster) Gordon Brown said Great Britain would participate in this program."

Call for EU support

The fundraising efforts of the foundation have also been put on the agenda of a European Union Summit set to take place in June. Despite the world-wide economic crisis, Kastenlaniec says other countries have recognized the importance of the foundation's goal.

Train track leading to Auschwitz

For many it was a one-way journey but those who did return hope their suffering will never be forgotten

"For sure, the economic crisis makes our task more difficult," he says. But the project was prepared before the start of the economic crisis, and we cannot wait until (it) ends because the objects and the buildings will not wait. It makes this operation more difficult, but observing the reactions, the authorities of different countries understand that this is a special situation."

Kastenlaniec is confident the foundation will reach its fundraising goal because of the role Auschwitz plays in teaching future generations about the lessons of the past.

"I think this goal will be reached. It’s not only the countries which were in the past responsible for what was happening there or the countries where there were deportations, but this is a project for future generations.”

"This place helps young generations understand why we make so many efforts to live on a peaceful continent without conflicts and work out the consequences of hatred and anti Semitism," Kastelaniec said.

Long-term maintenance

visitors walking across the Auschwitz site

Last year over a million visitors came to Auschwitz and its musuem

The site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and the state-run museum covers nearly two square kilometres and includes many buildings and ruins from when the camp was operational. If the foundation reaches its goal of 120 million euros, maintenance for the site will be secured for the future.

"It's about maintaining what's already there," said Kastelaniec. "Around 155 buildings, 300 ruins and 100,000 items, like suitcases, shoes and other proof of the crimes committed."

The Polish government will continue to fund the museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but money to maintain the historical integrity of the site has come from different sources in the past.

"Right now, if we have problems with the conservation," Kastelaniec says "we have to look for funds in the budget of the museum or we have to go look for funds from the Polish Ministry of Culture or European Union programs."

That system works, he says, and prevents major problems at the site, but the foundation is attempting to take a more long term approach to preserving Auschwitz.

"The foundation will (ensure) that the team of very professional conservators will have no problem working on the preservation of the buildings or ruins, including the ruins of the crematories," Kastelaniec said. "It would guarantee the security of the future of (the camp)."

Notorious Nazi death camp

Polish politician and Auschwitz survivor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Auschwitz survivor and founder of the Auschwitz-Birkenau foundation

Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of the Nazis' most notorious concentration camps. It operated from 1940 until 1945, when it was liberated by the Soviet Union's Red Army. After World War II, it was estimated that more than a million people died at Auschwitz.

Most of the victims were European Jews, but also included non-Jewish Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, gypsies and anti-Nazi resistance fighters. Some prisoners died in the camp's gas chambers, others were worked or starved to death. It was one of six German concentration camps in Poland.

The museum and preservation efforts of Auschwitz have always been conducted in close contact with survivors of the camp. They include Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1940. He’s now the founder of the Auschwitz-Birkenau foundation and a former foreign minister of Poland.

In a statement on the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum website, Bartoszewski spoke about the importance of preservation.

"We will save from forgetting what they wanted to destroy," he said, referring to Nazis who tried to cover up what had gone on at the concentration camps.

He also referred to the lasting legacy of Holocaust survivors as part of the reason for creating the foundation.

"We, the survivors, are in our last active years. That is why acknowledged European authorities, whose personal experiences are connected with that time, appealed to create a constant preservation tool for this place as well as for continuing educational and museum activities," Bartoszewski said.

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