Polish premier Donald Tusk’s letter to the leaders of European and other countries about the new Auschwitz-Birkenau foundation has evoked a range of publications and reactions around the world.
At the beginning of January, International Auschwitz Council chairman Władysław Bartoszewski signed the notarial document establishing the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. Its goal is to guarantee resources for the conservation of the Memorial so that future generations visiting the remains of the Auschwitz Nazi German concentration camp will be able to see, with their own eyes, the authentic sites of the crimes that the Nazis committed during World War II.
The realization of this goal is made possible by a special Perpetual Fund planned to total €120 million. This one-time fundraising effort will guarantee the preservation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial for future generations. The capital will be invested securely and ring-fenced, and the annual interest, estimated at €4-5 million, will underwrite each year’s essential conservation work and cover any unexpected difficulties in maintaining the remains of the camp.
A professional conservation laboratory and workshop was installed at the Museum 6 years ago, thanks to aid by Ronald S. Lauder. It employs a team of certified conservation experts with various specializations, who have defined the priorities for and begun working on a comprehensive conservation program. The Perpetual Fund will make it possible to develop and implement an overall program for the conservation of all the original vestiges of the camp: 155 buildings (blocks, barracks, and guard towers, and other structures) and 300 ruins (including the gas chambers and crematoria) spread across 200 hectares of grounds, many kilometres of roads and fences, and other elements of the original Auschwitz infrastructure. Objects in the Museum collections and the SS archives will also undergo conservation.
The work of the Foundation will be coordinated by a Management Board, in close cooperation with the Museum administration. A Foundation Council, made up of specialists from around the world, will oversee this work. The Trustees will also nominate a Finance Commission to supervise the safe investment of the Fund. An additional, special International Committee, comprising delegates from the countries that support the Fund, will receive current information about all significant plans and actions related to the Fund and its utilization.
The first positive reactions to the establishment of the Fund have already occurred. Germany has declared its support, promising €1 million this year, with plans for a larger contribution next year. The German government has also declared its desire to appeal to the business world to join the initiative. Other countries have also reacted positively to the concept for an overall solution to the conservation issue.
Museum director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński speaking about the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and its importance for preserving the Auschwitz Memorial:
Today, the situation at the Auschwitz site is still under control. The Polish government has taken continuous responsibility for this place since World War II, but the clock is running increasingly quickly for these ruins and buildings. If we do not find a way of permanently financing an overall conservation plan today, many of these objects will face accelerated natural erosion and deterioration, until the point at which the situation becomes irreversible. This is why the Polish premier has sent letters addressed to a wide range of recipients, including the European countries, urging them to support the plans for setting up a Perpetual Fund to maintain the authenticity of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
So far, Poland has carried almost the entire burden of preserving this site. Poland will, furthermore, continue to maintain the Museum. The appeal for funding applies exclusively to the cost of conserving the original camp objects—the scores of blocks, barracks, guard towers, ruins, crematoria, and fences, as well as the objects safeguarded in the collections. Support from abroad has not exceeded 3-5% in recent years, the majority donated by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. These contributions have made it possible to open the up-to-date conservation workshop and laboratories. Today, we are closer to preserving the authenticity of this place than ever before. The only thing we need now is money.
This place is necessary to all of us. This is where we can most fully understand the tragedy of a Europe plunged into war and mutual hatred. Here, too, the younger generation can best understand how much we must preserve in order for the future to be different. Auschwitz was both a concentration camp and a killing center. It is the only place of its kind entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Over the last seven years, the number of visitors has tripled. This is a sign of great hope. I am personally convinced that this is a place of fundamental significance to our entire European civilization—a place where we can grapple most fully with questions of overriding importance about man, society, and the poisoned fruits of anti-Semitism, race hatred, and contempt for others.
It is also the place where we can most clearly see the sense of many postwar phenomena and movements to create a world free of such tragedies. I am thinking of the creation of the UN and the International Court of Justice, the concept of crimes against humanity, and finally the whole effort to build a communitarian Europe as a way of averting the calamities of war and the spread of ideologies of hatred.
Auschwitz remains the most comprehensible explanation of the postwar struggle for human rights. I believe that, today, every mature democracy depends on educating its young people in such a way that they understand the profound correctness of international and state efforts to build a different world. It might not always be a success, and it might not be completely ideal, but it will be different.
That is why I think that, at the moment when the last eyewitnesses to those tragic times are passing away, the preservation of Auschwitz is becoming a genuinely shared responsibility.