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Changes Made at Auschwitz Museum, but Official Says More Money Needed

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Plans to update, restore and reorganize the museum and monuments at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex are well under way but proceeding slowly because of lack of funds, according to a ranking museum official.

But the Polish government-run museum has already made major changes in approach, if not in physical structure, according to Franciszek Piper, director of the museum’s historical department.

Since the end of Communist rule, the museum has been emphasizing that Jews were the primary victims at the Nazi death camp, Piper said in an interview here.

The Communists depicted Jews as but one of many nationalities to die at Auschwitz, but that has been changed, he said.

“Despite the fact that they were citizens of various different countries, they were in Auschwitz because they were Jews,” he said.

“Now, in all our publications, the proper data on the nationalities of the victims and the fact that most of the victims were Jews is presented,” said Piper, who was in Rome this week for the opening of an exhibition on Auschwitz.

He said the acknowledgement of Auschwitz as primarily a Jewish tragedy began when an international commission to reorganize the museum was established after the fall of Communism in Poland two years ago.

Piper said an introductory film made by the Red Army has been changed to reflect the new emphasis, though not yet in all languages. “That is a technical problem,” he said.

In the museum itself, “what we can change and are changing are the commentaries and interpretation that explain the items and photographs on display,” he said.

But Piper said to “do everything that needs to be done, we need $42 million.”

Explaining that until now, the Polish government has been solely responsible for the museum’s financing, Piper said he hoped private foundations and possibly other governments could help, considering the international dimensions of Auschwitz and the financial crisis affecting Poland.

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