Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, is falling into ruin as evidence of atrocities disintegrate. A mammoth task to preserve the site is underway, to conserve its legacy.
"Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a space for the deepest reflection on the human condition and the responsibility that each of us bears for the fate of others. This Memorial is one of the most important foundations for building the civilization of the 21st century—and it must remain such a foundation." Marek Zając, secretary of the International Auschwitz Council.
Auschwitz-Birkenau served as a slave labor facility and a death camp from June 1, 1940 to its liberation on Jan. 27. 1945. Since then, responsibility for the preservation of the site has largely fallen on the Polish government. The site "has become a key symbol of the Holocaust and of absolute evil. It is therefore a moral imperative to preserve the site's authenticity and legacy" said Avner Shalev, director of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. (Ynet)
In 2009 the Perpetual Fund of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was established to finance in its entirety the Master Conservation Plan for the Auschwitz former Nazi German concentration and death camp, the Auschwitz organization reported. Its aim is to finance the first major conservation project undertaken at Auschwitz in 20 years. According to theJerusalem Post the foundation has so far received pledges to cover half of the 120 million euros needed, with the first major contribution pledged by Germany in 2009. Since then other countries to contribute include the U.S., Poland, Britain, Israel, and Austria.
The Auschwitz memorial is now listed as a UNESCO site and receives more visitors each year. Andrew Curry wrote a compelling feature for theSmithsonianon the complexities of preserving the site, including the opinion of eminent Canadian historian Robert Jan van Pelt, an expert on the construction of Auschwitz. Whilst Pelt supports the preservation of the Auschwitz main camp he believes that it would be more fitting to let Birkenau descend into the ruin it has increasingly become. He said Birkenau is “the ultimate nihilistic place. A million people literally disappeared. Shouldn’t we confront people with the nothingness of the place? Seal it up. Don’t give people a sense that they can imitate the experience and walk in the steps of the people who were there.”
The Auschwitz organization has highly qualified conservators and laboratories dedicated to the preservation of the site through a "master plan" that "can only succeed if it is implemented in a coordinated, systematic way." It has determined "The greatest need is the preservation of the grounds and buildings at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site, which has been left in its original state. Work on the brick barracks used to house prisoners at sector BI will begin first."
Conservations face a mammoth task in preserving the main Auschwitz site and the satellite Birkeau camp. There are historical buildings, crematoria, railway tracks, barracks, and the mass of evidence of human death including deteriorating hair, shoes and eyeglasses. As the Auschwitz organization says "The entire world has an obligation to protect and conserve this place, and maintain its authenticity."