Jews and Poles Initial Accord on Preservation of Auschwitz

In the latest chapter on the fate of the site where the Third Reich murdered nearly 2 million people, Jewish and Polish officials have agreed in principle to a long-term arrangement for the preservation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death complex.

Advocates of the proposal, which was initialed March 5 in Warsaw, say they hope that it helps in resolving years of controversy involving the future of the former camps and their relationship to the nearby town of Oswiecim, where about 50,000 people now live.

Major points of the plan include:

physically linking Auschwitz with the Birkenau camp, which is not as well preserved and which Jewish leaders call the world’s largest graveyard;

ensuring the enforcement of a U.N. protective zone around the camp;

better training for tour guides at the site.

The plan was signed in the presence of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

All parties now have to officially sign off on the deal, in which case it will be brought back to Poland and officially signed, said Miles Lerman, the chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington who headed the delegation of Jewish groups.

“The Polish government has advised me that it has looked with great favor upon my proposal,” Lerman said, adding that there was “no serious discussion” of a dollar figure to carry out the plans.

Lerman spoke in a telephone interview soon after he returned to the United States from Poland.

In addition to Lerman and Polish federal and local officials, attendees of the meetings on the future of the area included representatives of the International Council of the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the American Jewish Committee, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and Yad Vashem.

The future of Oswiecim, the adjacent town, is also raised in the proposal, whose aims include “encouraging economic growth of the surrounding communities.”

Lerman stressed that his delegation’s sole concern is with the preservation of the camps and that any development of Oswiecim, a town of about 50,000 people, would be the responsibility of the Polish government.

But that aspect of the proposal has upset at least one Jewish official who has had an instrumental role in the preservation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps.

Kalman Sultanik, vice chairman of the Auschwitz Museum Council, the body charged with protecting the integrity of the Auschwitz grounds, said in an interview that he is opposed to an agreement that has to do with the neighboring town.

“The Jewish point of view should be how to maintain Auschwitz,” said Sultanik, also a vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

In addition, Sultanik took issue with the recent agreement’s recognition that some issues, such as the controversial presence of crosses at the death camp, remain unresolved.

For his part, Lerman said the crosses had to come down.

UPDATE TO STORY: Following is a revised version of the story sent yesterday about Netanyahu’s visit to Russia. This version includes Netanyahu’s denial that he was linking expanded trade with Russia to an end to arms transfers to Syria.

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