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Group Considers Plans for Preserving Auschwitz

A group of international experts is wrestling with the issue of how to preserve two adjacent Nazi concentration camps in Poland.

Meeting earlier this month in Bielsko-Biala, Poland, the group, which includes Jewish, Polish and UNESCO officials, discussed how to preserve the historical authenticity of Auschwitz and Birkenau without disrupting the surrounding communities.

One issue discussed in the meeting was whether to try to restore the camps back into their immediate postwar state or to leave the camps as they are currently.

The consensus of those who attended the conference was to leave the camps as they appear now, because “we do not want the Germans to accuse us” of any misrepresentation, said Kalman Sultanik, vice chairman of the Auschwitz- Birkenau Museum Council.

The group agreed to place survivors’ photographs from the camps in the Auschwitz sauna, the place where the prisoners arrived and where they were stripped of their belongings and clothes.

The photographs will enable visitors to see Auschwitz and Birkenau as they were 50 years ago.

Another issue addressed by the group was a plan to create a path that would shorten the walking distance between the two camps so that Auschwitz and Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, will be considered as one entity.

The two camps are less than two miles apart, but because of the way roads between the two camps are laid out, visitors take about 50 minutes to walk from one to the other. The proposed shortcut would cut the walking distance in half, said Sultanik. A formal proposal is expected to be developed over the summer.

Sultanik said the estimated cost of the overall conservation and preservation program for Auschwitz-Birkenau would be $50 million. The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has already raised $28 million, and is coordinating a fund-raising campaign among governments and German corporations for the remainder, he said.

In a related development, a synagogue in the town of Auschwitz that the Polish government returned to the Polish Jewish community in March will be rebuilt.

“Our goal is to recreate a permanent structure symbolizing Jewish life in a place which for too many years has only represented Jewish death,” said Fred Schwartz, president of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation.

The foundation, Schwartz announced this week at a New York news conference, has taken title from the Polish Jewish community to the Oswiecim Lomdei Mishnaot Synagogue and an adjoining building.

The foundation plans to renovate the premises into a small synagogue and educational center.

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