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Redemption with Dignity. (the Shoah)

By Sultanik, Kalman | Midstream, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Redemption with Dignity. (the Shoah)

Sultanik, Kalman, Midstream

Mankind must be taught and reminded repeatedly of the horrendous tragedy of the Holocaust-Shoah. For Jews, the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp symbolizes the brutal destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis. To the Polish people, Auschwitz-Birkenau represents martyrdom and their struggle against German oppression. For both Poles and Jews, Auschwitz-Birkenau remains an unprecedented historical atrocity committed by the Germans that should promote understanding between Jews and Poles, overriding all the schisms and differences that exist between them. Furthermore, both Jews and Poles, together, must consider this a sacred site to be preserved with the utmost dignity and without disturbing those who come to identify themselves with a loved one who perished there.

There is a consensus to create Auschwitz-Birkenau as a zone of inviolability, an entity without interference from local municipalities, which have their own agenda and their own interests with respect to the well-being of their citizens and communities. This often intrudes on and, at times, is contradictory to the dignity that the sacred site of Auschwitz-Birkenau deserves. The government of the Republic of Poland--the president, the prime minister, and the minister of art and culture--have all acknowledged the symbolic impact of Auschwitz-Birkenau, both in Poland and throughout the world. They have cooperated in supporting the memorializing of Auschwitz-Birkenau for all mankind.

The importance of the conservation and preservation of the historical authenticity of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the international community cannot be overstated. A conference of experts from 18 countries expressed varied opinions. Some of the experts suggested that the protective zone be extended from 300 meters to one kilometer. Mr. Bernd von Droste, director of UNESCO's World Heritage of Mankind Center, suggested that the 300-meter protective zone must be observed carefully according to the UNESCO Agreement of 1977, when Auschwitz-Birkenau was placed on the World Heritage of Monuments. This document states that "the basic principle governing conservation [at Auschwitz] is to preserve the original character of the site." In addition, Mr. Bernd von Droste stressed that a buffer zone before the Auschwitz-Birkenau preservation and conservation site should be established without infringing upon neighboring municipalities.

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder established the Auschwitz-Birkenau Preservation Project, the purpose of which was to raise, through European governments, the funds necessary to preserve the barely standing structures left at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He called upon two survivors involved in the leadership of the Jewish community, Ernest Michel and myself, to co-chair the project. Ambassador Lauder assembled a team of expert conservators, headed by Tony Franz of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, as well as a team of restoration architects. They were to assess the condition of the structures remaining on the site and to determine conservation and stabilization measures required to assure continued existence of the remaining buildings and architectural artifacts.

In their May 30, 1990 report to the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, the international team of conservation experts outlined plans for the preservation--"not refurbishment" and no rebuilding--of the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau. They stated that there had been extensive work done by the Polish government, and that much care had been taken not to alter the original character of the site--not to remake the site as it was, but to conserve it in the state it was at the time of the report. Unlike most of the Nazi concentration camps and extermination sites that were stripped of their original functional identity and replaced by modern monuments, Auschwitz-Birkenau today still preserves the evidence of the Nazi atrocities.

The funds for this conservation and preservation program were initially estimated at 50 million U.

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