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17 December 2010
The German government is to pay € 60 million (US$ 80 million) over the coming months into a fund for the preservation of the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Notably the former gas chambers and other evidence of crimes committed at the camp are deteriorating to the point of collapse. Germany is the largest of several donors contributing to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Fund, which was set up in 2009 to gather money to maintain the expanse that made up of the original camp, Auschwitz I (‘Stammlager’) and the nearby satellite camp Auschwitz III (Birkenau).
The camp was operated by the SS in occupied Poland during World War II until it was liberated on 27 January 1945 by Soviet troops. More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died in the camp’s gas chambers or through forced labor, disease or starvation. “Germany acknowledges its historic responsibility to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to pass it on to future generations,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement. “Auschwitz-Birkenau is synonymous with the crimes of the Nazis. Today’s memorial recalls these crimes.”
Museum director Piotr Cywinski first issued an appeal for help in 2008, saying that € 120 million (US$ 160 million) was needed to repair the memorial site, which is widely regarded as the most powerful symbol of the Holocaust. The barracks, gas chambers and other buildings are in need of urgent repair, having been worn down by the ravages of time and the pressure of more than a million visitors a year.
The US government has pledged US$ 15 million and Austria € 6 million, while smaller amounts have been promised by the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Estonia and Malta. Most urgently in need of repair are the 45 brick barracks of the women’s camp in the Birkenau section of the camp. “They are in tragic condition due to the method of their construction and due to the ground water that is washing away the ground where they were built. They are crumbling away and could collapse at any time,” a spokesman for the Auschwitz Museum was quoted as saying by the news agency AP.