Meeting XIX: June 8-9, 2010
The International Auschwitz Council, which is convened by the Polish prime minister, met at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim on June 8-9, 2010. The Council heard a report from Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum director Piotr M. A. Cywiński on developments since the last session. In view of the threat of the total destruction of the original grounds and buildings by floodwaters at both Auschwitz I and Birkenau, the members of the Council unanimously approved a “Flood Appeal to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Poland.”
It reads: “In May 2020, the waters flowing in the Vistula and Soła posed a serious threat to the largest Memorial in Europe. The remains of the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau stand where the perpetrators placed them, on the floodplain of these two rivers. Today, unprecedented international efforts are underway to guarantee the gripping authenticity of this place under the best possible conditions. In the meantime, on account of reservations advanced several years ago by ecologists, work has been halted on a system of flood barriers on these rivers in the direct vicinity of the former camps.
“We appeal for the most rapid possible high-priority resumption of this work, for the raising and consolidation of the dykes on the Vistula and Soła, and, in the wake of this year’s experience, also for the extension of the dykes on the Pławianka, a tributary of the Vistula. Fundamental sensitivity ordains consideration of the overarching value represented, regardless of any elements of the flora or fauna present in the area, by the totally unique legacy of mankind’s most tragic times.
“The Council expresses its gratitude to all persons who, through their unstinting personal commitment, protected the Memorial from irreversible damage during the days of the flood.”
At the suggestion of Director Cywiński, the Council also discussed the future fate of the original Arbeit macht frei inscription, which was stolen and destroyed in December 2009. Recovered by the police, the relic should be restored to its former place to the degree that this is possible, since authenticity is one of the highest values and principles at the Memorial, the members of the IAC affirmed. However, the decision to restore the inscription to its former place can only be made on the basis of expert opinions and the recommendations of conservationists, which will be issued once the parts of the inscription are put back together. The security of this object, which functions as a visible symbol in ways that cannot be overestimated in the minds of millions of people around the world, will remain the overarching criterion. If the inscription turns out after reassembly to be to fragile, for instance, there is a possibility of its going on display within the framework of the new main exhibition under development at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
Director Cywiński also presented a schedule of work on the new exhibition. The scenario of the exhibition should be ready by the end of the year. At the same time, work is underway on preparing for the announcement of an international competition on the visual design concept for the exhibition. Concrete decisions on the financing of the project must therefore be made shortly.
The International Auschwitz Council also addressed an appeal to the Minister of Culture and National Heritage to make an appropriation in next year’s budget for the conservation of the so-called Old Crematorium on the grounds of the State Museum at Majdanek. This unique relic could be lost if funds for its complete restoration are not found in the immediate future. The Council looks forward to the development of a comprehensive financial support package for Majdanek, especially in light of the upcoming seventieth anniversary of Aktion Reinhard, the destruction of the Jews in the General Government and the Białystok region. In future sessions, the Council also intends to take up the problems of the Memorial in Bełżec.
Additionally, members of the Council will soon undertake efforts at the level of both the Polish Sejm and government, and of the European Parliament, to enact at long last a comprehensive solution for the financial issues surrounding all the concentration camp and death camp sites located today on the territory of the Polish Republic, especially in view of essential conservation work. Members of the Council noted that while new museums can always be built, we will irretrievably lose the remains of the camps, among the most authentic signs of the tragic history of the twentieth century, unless we act quickly in a systematic way to protect them. Members of the Council pointed out that no admission fees are charged at Memorials, and this should continue to be so, but the relevant authorities must in this case consider the creation of a special model for financing these institutions.