Poland seeks foreign donations to preserve Auschwitz camp

WARSAW Fri Feb 27, 2009 8:03am EST

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, former Polish Foreign Minister and survivor of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp walks by a giant picture of the camp in Berlin February 16, 2009. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, former Polish Foreign Minister and survivor of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp walks by a giant picture of the camp in Berlin February 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland has appealed for international donations to preserve facilities and exhibits at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz where more than one million Jews perished during World War Two.

The Auschwitz site, near the city of Krakow in southern Poland, comprises 155 camp buildings, 300 ruined facilities and hundreds of thousands of personal belongings and documents scattered over more than 200 hectares.

In a letter obtained by Reuters on Friday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said those running the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum would set up a foundation to administer a special fund with a minimum capital of 120 million euros.

"Saving Auschwitz-Birkenau means saving the memory of millions who suffered and were bestially murdered. It is the responsibility and duty of entire Europe," Tusk said in a letter addressed to leaders of European and some other countries, especially those with a large Jewish diaspora.

The museum itself lacks the resources to check the progressive decay and deterioration of its facilities and objects, Tusk said in his letter, dated February 10 but not previously made public.

Jews from all over Europe perished in the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp set up by the Nazis after Germany's conquest of Poland in 1939. Many others died of starvation, forced labor, disease and in medical experiments.

Poland founded a museum on the site, known as Oswiecim in Polish, after the war. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the museum every year, passing through the iron gate bearing the motto "Arbeit macht frei" (work makes free).

(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Ralph Boulton)

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