Germany has contributed €60 million to the Perpetual Fund of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. This is half of the total that, according to current estimates, the Foundation must amass in order to finance in its entirety the Master Conservation Plan for the Auschwitz former Nazi German concentration and death camp.
"This is a great day! The plan for the long-term preservation of this Memorial is becoming a reality," said Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and president of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.
While commenting on that decision professor Bartoszewski, Auschwitz survivor and the chairman of the International Auschwitz Council, who in spring 2009 established the Foundation, said that this "proves the feeling of responsibility with regard to history, and is the evidence of union basing on confidence as well as a sign of hope for common future."
The aim of the Foundation is to create a permanent source for financing the long-term conservation programs intended to preserve the legibility of the Memorial for as long as possible, for future generations. "This is all the more urgent a task because there are fewer and fewer former prisoners and eyewitnesses to the events of the times of the Second World War among us," added Director Cywiński.
The German decision means that the Foundation project has become real, and that decisions by other countries, already announced in some cases, should follow quickly. We can expect some of them before the end of this year. In this way, within two to three years we will be able to begin impressive conservation tasks, such as the 45 brick barracks at Birkenau.
In January and February 2009, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk sent letters to several dozen heads of governments requesting support for this initiative and participation in the creation of the Fund. There was a very positive reaction from the media, the public, and politicians. Today, Germany is the first country to pledge the entire sum that it will allocate. The €60 million will come from both the German Federal budget and the German Lands (states). It will be paid in installments over the next few years.
€60 million more remains to be raised. It will come above all from the governments of countries that understand the need to preserve the Auschwitz Memorial. Discussions are also being held at the level of the European Union. Private donors may also contribute.
"I am deeply convinced that no responsible state will leave Germany alone with this burden. Today, we must take pains together over the future generations of Europeans, over the future of the world. This is the basis of our desire to create a common, shared Europe, even—and especially—on the foundations of our worst historical experiences, said Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.
Marek Zając, the secretary of the International Auschwitz Council and a member of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Board, added, "I believe that this Memorial is important to all people of good will, because, in this case, memory applies not only to the past. It is also of capital significance for the future. It will help to build a better, wiser, more just world," said Zając. "Perhaps such words would ring hollow in some other place or sound holow, but, in the face of the tragedy of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the face of hundreds of thousands of murdered women and children, they always take on the proper power and credibility."
The idea and scale of the Perpetual Fund represent a revolution for Polish cultural institutions. The income that it earns will be used to finance the conservation work. So far, the Auschwitz Memorial has been maintained almost exclusively by the Polish government. Over the years, it became clear that conservation work on a larger scale, as part of a long-term master plan, is needed because the previous practice of conserving one object at a time is no longer adequate. After the establishment of the Fund, the Polish ministry of culture will continue to subsidize the administration, maintenance, essential investments, scholarly research, and educational work of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The income from the Fund will make it possible to plan extensive conservation work on a far larger scale.
"I would like to thank everyone who had faith in the sense of this great undertaking: Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, German officials up to and including the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the prime ministers of the German Lands, the heads of other governments and their ambassadors, as well as the members of the International Auschwitz Council and the members of the Foundation Board. I would also like to thank the journalists who took a responsible approach to this great project and provided their audiences with judicious, accurate information about this Fund. I also want to thank the fantastic team of conservation specialists at this Memorial—it is their work that enables us to plan a scale of future work to maintain the authenticity of the Memorial," added Director Cywiński.Authentic remains of Auschwitz as an essential element in remembrance and education
After the Second World War, a lot of effort was put into changing the principles that governed the functioning of the world community. On the political level, new mechanisms for dialogue. Compromise, and consensus, like the UN and the European Union, came into being. Force and bitter rivalry are gradually being replaced by interdependence and cooperation. On the legal-social level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been proclaimed and a whole system of legal acts has been created to protect individuals and minorities.
On the intellectual and moral level, in turn, mankind after the experience of Auschwitz has asked itself the question about the boundaries of humanity, the shocking banality of evil, the pathologies of the individual and collective conscience, our responsibility for our fellow man, and the future of humanity. The Second World War brought something that had been unknown in earlier military conflicts: the irreversible destruction of those regarded as foreign, inferior, or unworthy of life was planned and then carried out on a horrifying scale. For these very reasons, 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 is why more and more governments, societies, and individuals are coming to the conclusion that becoming familiar with the authentic remains of Auschwitz must be an essential element in the education of the young generations—an education that will help them bear the burden of human and civic responsibility in adult life.
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 and member of the Foundation Board