The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp museum, the largest testament to the Holocaust, is dying along with Holocaust survivors as officials scramble to raise $165 million so that future generations will “never forget.”
The Nazis tried to blow up and destroy the evidence of death chambers before the Allied forces overran Hitler’s empire in 1945, and the remains were preserved in a museum, but time and the poor foundations of the original camp are taking their toll.
"We really can't wait any longer. In 10 years, these will be ruins," Museum director Piotr Cywinski told the Associated Press.
"There are no more remains of [the] Treblinka, Kulmhof, Sobibor and Belzec" death camps, he added. "Let us not allow the biggest of these death camps -- and the only one that is still recognizable -- to fall into decay due to the ravages of time and our indifference."
At last month’s 66th anniversary ceremonies commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz, Cywinski launched an “Intervene Now” campaign to raise $165 million for a perpetual fund to preserve the museum. Marshy ground and buckling floors have restricted visitors to viewing only four barracks at Auschwitz.
The first item on the list of work is the repair of 45 brick barracks, where Nazis crowded Jews before starving or gassing them to death. Germany has contributed $82 million to the effort to save the museum, and American and Austrian grants have added another $33 million, leaving the fund lacking approximately $50 million.
Even the remains of survivors’ clothes are disappearing. Their leather shoes have been warped almost beyond recognition, and experts are trying to restore them to their original shape.
"A visit to Auschwitz is more than just a visit to a memorial," Paul Shapiro, director of the Washington-based Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told AP. "You can actually picture the full horror of what happened there. You can picture what took place in the death camps that were built by the Third Reich."