Ottawa gives $400,000 for Auschwitz upkeep
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged $400,000 to help the preserve the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in Poland.
Harper made the announcement May 14 while hosting Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during his state visit to Ottawa.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation is a Polish non-governmental organization that’s seeking to preserve the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp by raising 120 million euros ($154 million Cdn) to cover the site’s conservation costs.
The foundation was created in January 2009 by Prof. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former Auschwitz prisoner and current chairman of the Auschwitz Council.
In 2009, Tusk asked the heads of 40 countries to help cover the costs of maintaining the site. Last week’s grant fulfils Harper’s pledge to contribute.
The funds will come from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s budget.
“Canada’s support for the memorial site will help with the conservation of the buildings, grounds, and the thousands of historical objects that are endangered by erosion and deterioration,” the prime minister’s office said.
The memorial comprises almost 200 hectares, and includes 155 buildings, 300 ruins, including those of the gas chambers and crematoria, as well as more than 100,000 personal items that belonged to the people who were killed, along with archival documents and prisoners’ artworks.
Canadian Jewish community leaders and representatives of survivors’ groups praised the announcement.
In a joint statement, David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and Hank Rosenbaum, co-president of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants organization, lauded the government’s gift.
“Auschwitz-Birkenau serves as a stark reminder of the depths of evil the Jewish people, and indeed the entire world, faced in recent history,” Rosenbaum said. “[The government’s] commitment is a tribute to the survivors who overcame these horrors, rebuilding their shattered lives and contributing so much to Canadian society in the years that followed.”
Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said the grant is important, because it’s “critical for future generations to bear witness against Holocaust deniers.”
On its website, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation states that unless enough funding is found, much of its buildings and surroundings will go to ruin.
“[T]he clock is running faster and faster. If we do not find a way today to underwrite a comprehensive plan for conservation on a permanent basis, we will never manage to catch up with the natural erosion and deterioration of many buildings and other objects,” said foundation president and museum director Piotr M. A. Cywinski.
“Until now, the entire burden of maintaining this place has fallen on Poland, which will continue to finance the ongoing operation of the museum.”
Canada follows numerous other countries that have given aid to the NGO, including Israel ($1 million in 2011), the United States ($15 million in 2010), the Netherlands ($400,000 in 2011), Poland (10 million euros in 2011), Austria ($6 million in 2010), and Germany (60 million euros in 2009).