Polish museum fights to preserve memory of Auschwitz

Auschwitz was the largest of the Nazi death camps. The Third Reich gassed more than 1 million Jews in this network of concentrations camps in occupied Poland.

“To forget would be not only dangerous, but offensive,” wrote Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in his book “Night,” a work based on his experiences in Auschwitz. “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” 

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has raised more than $124 million of a $156 million endowment dedicated to preserve the memory of Auschwitz perpetually. The museum hopes to raise the remaining funds by Jan. 27, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps.

“We have to be sure that it’s not just Jews remembering this,” said Piotr M.A. Cywiński, director of the museum, in a March 12 meeting with representatives of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. “The Jewish people remember it as victims. But for Christians, it’s something else.”

Auschwitz-Birkenau is the largest remaining holocaust memorial site and the burial ground for more than 1 million victims. Prisoners built the Birkenau camp buildings and much of the grounds have deteriorated.

“It is my contention that the tragedy engenders a spirit of community,” Cywiński said.

Father Alexei Smith, head of the archdiocese's Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, has seen local communities come together through different events, like the recent priest-rabbi dialogues and the annual Catholic-Jewish Women’s Conference.

“We can never forget and it can never be repeated,” Father Smith said.

Among the museum artifacts are 39,000 negatives and thousands of photographs, 3,800 suitcases, 260 prayer garments and 90 pounds of eyeglasses. In 2012, nearly 1.5 million visited the memorial site — most were teenagers.

“There is only one thing worse than Auschwitz itself,” said Henry Appel, a survivor. “And that is if the world forgets there was such a place.”

—J.D. Long-Garcia

 

To learn more, including how to become one of the “18 Pillars of Remembrance,” visit www.preservememory.org.


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