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The Polish government is calling on other countries to help support the newly-founded Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which hopes to raise 120 million euros to maintain the site of the former Nazi death camp.
Liberated 65 years ago, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is one of Eastern Europe’s most visited locations and one of its most fragile historical sites. It presents an unmatched conservation challenge.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of the Nazis’ most notorious concentration camps. It operated from 1940 until 1945, when it was liberated by the Soviet Union’s Red Army. After World War II, it was estimated that more than a million people died at Auschwitz. Since 1947, the Polish government has maintained Auschwitz, which lies about 40 miles west of Krakow, as a museum and memorial. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a distinction usually reserved for places of culture and beauty.
The camp site and the state-run museum covers nearly two square kilometers and includes many buildings and ruins from when the camp was operational. The Auschwitz camp itself covers 50 acres. In addition, Birkenau, a satellite camp about two miles away, sprawls over more than 400 acres.
Public interest in the camp has never been higher. Visits have doubled this decade, from 492,500 in 2001 to more than one million in 2009. But Auschwitz—with its 155 buildings and hundreds of thousands of artifacts—is deteriorating.