OSWIECIM, Poland (Jun. 13)
The nine Carmelite nuns remaining in their controversial convent just outside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz must move out by the end of this month, local Catholic officials have said.
Five nuns have already left the old building and moved into the new $2.5 million convent complex nearby, which also includes an interreligious study center.
“The other sisters have until the end of June to leave the old theater,” said Father Marek Glownia, director of the new complex.
“I think that maybe some of them will go to the new convent, but others will choose to go somewhere else,” he said.
Sources at the new complex said funds are running very short and appealed to the Roman Catholic Church in Western countries to help finance the operation.
They also said it was not clear what will happen to the former convent once the nuns leave.
“It was crumbling when the nuns moved in, and they totally fixed it up,” one source said.
During World War II, the Nazis used the old theater building to store Zyklon-B poison gas, used to gas to death Auschwitz inmates.
The new convent opened May 24, when the local bishop celebrated the first mass there and blessed the new building.
Glownia said the nuns who already moved were settling into their new quarters.
“They are already beginning to work in the garden, to plant flowers,” he said, adding that virtually all interior construction and furnishing of the building had been finished.
FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES CITED
Meanwhile, sources at the complex say it is increasingly difficult to finance operations, which, besides the convent, include the study center.
The center plans to host conferences, stage exhibitions, house a library of books relating to the Holocaust and interreligious dialogue, and provide accommodation and meals for visitors.
It was set up, along with the convent, as the result of the Feb. 22, 1987, agreement in Geneva between Jewish and Catholic representatives stipulating that the nuns would leave the old convent.
Economic troubles, in large part linked to Poland’s overall economic difficulties, slowed construction of the complex throughout.
A statement issued earlier this spring spoke of “paralyzing financial difficulties” hampering final completion of the convent building as well as construction of a planned hostel for pilgrims.
But one source now said the center has difficulty even meeting the payroll for its 30 member staff, who each earn an average of $150 to $200 per month.
Operating expenses for the study center alone run to about $5,000 a month. “That’s without the convent,” said a staff member. “If we include that, forget it.”
The main financing for construction of the convent complex came from the Catholic Church in France.
“We receive $6,000 from the Carmelites in the United States, but otherwise, nothing from the U.S.,” said a source.