Auschwitz Crumbling

Auschwitz II - Birkenau - Entrance gate and ma...
Auschwitz II – Birkenau – Entrance gate and main track. Photo shot in summer 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OSWIECIM, Poland – As they do on every anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops, witnesses to the Holocaust will gather Sunday, older, frailer, fewer than the year before.

After 68 years, the camp itself is showing its age under the pressures of time and tourism.

With a budget underwritten by the state of Israel, the current director, Jo’zef Korzeniowski, a 63-year-old retired hospital administrator in Warsaw, is searching for ways to preserve vital evidence of Nazi atrocities and update the exhibits without chipping away at Auschwitz’s authenticity — or giving fodder to Holocaust deniers.

“The major dilemma,” Korzeniowski informed a group of Israeli Knesset ministers crowded into his office in one of the Auschwitz barracks, “is preserving what is original while permitting visitors to see and touch.”

“This wasn’t constructed like a gothic cathedral to endure for centuries,” Korzeniowski reminded the ministers. “It was a Nazi death camp built to last a short time.”

Most sensitive, perhaps, is what to do about the remains of gas chambers which are slowly sinking into the earth, the result of weather, erosion and gravity.

Toward the end of World War II as the Soviet army advanced, the Nazis attempted to destroy the evidence by blowing up the gas chambers and crematoria in its multiple extermination camps.

Today, those testaments to German engineering are mostly in ruins, an abstract “canvas” both of the original crimes against humanity and the attempt to conceal them.

Auschwitz alone survived largely intact.

Given its singular role as proof of the Nazi atrocities inflicted on Jews, Roma humans, homosexuals, communists, and the physically and mentally disabled, the decay of Auschwitz poses a special problem.

Still visible are the railroad tracks on which the “cattle cars” transported the condemned to the camp,

the barracks where they lived in appalling conditions,

the chambers where they were gassed,

the crematoria where their bodies were incinerated.

Auschwitz, 68 years after, provides a picture of how the camp operated, whereas many other former Nazi extermination camps, including Treblinka and Belzec, are marked today only by rusted monuments.

Auschwitz’s eventual decay is accelerated because the materials used, such as softwood in the watchtowers and the barracks, will rot or collapse.

Korzeniowski reminded the Knesset ministers that some of the decaying structures at the camp were initially constructed by weak and starving inmates exerting minimum effort to preserve their strength.

Evidently, those inmates rejected the exhortation which the Nazis nailed over the main entrance to Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei — “Work will make you free.”

Technically, Auschwitz is not one camp, but two, each with its own aging problems.

Auschwitz I was constructed in an abandoned Polish military base in 1940; Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, a much larger complex, was built two miles away in 1941 to speed up the Nazis’ “Final Solution.”

Together, Auschwitz-Birkenau stands as virtually the last tangible emblem of the Nazi plague, so making any change is fraught with great responsibility and controversy.

Korzeniowski is calling for retainer walls to be built around gas chambers to prevent them from sinking further.

“We are at a moment where we must act,” Korzeniowski announced to the Knesset ministers.

“If we don’t, there’s the risk that in 10 or 15 years, it will no longer be possible to understand their construction.”

“Any tampering with the gas chambers is problematic because Holocaust deniers could seize on photographs of repair work to argue that the whole project was fabricated.”

So pronounced Herbert Weltmann, Professor of Jewish studies at the University of Manchester and a member of the International Auschwitz Council, which advises Auschwitz administrators.

Weltmann noted that the barbed wire at Auschwitz had already been replaced twice since the war, because the original was so rusted.

Gas chambers are another matter.

“Fiddling with gas chambers is fiddling with the heart and soul of what Auschwitz represents,” said Weltmann, who has urged the Council to seek the advice of engineering experts before starting any work.

Another mission Korzeniowski has set for himself is modernizing the exhibit at Auschwitz I that was established in 1955.

Housed in the original brick barracks, the exhibit includes pitiful photographs of inmates;

SS offices left in their original state down to the photograph on the wall of Hitler stiffly bending to pet a small dog;

displays of broken, weathered suitcases; twisted eyeglasses; hair and teeth and toenails extracted from victims before their remains were incinerated;

three full cans of Zyklon, the gas with which the inmates were exterminated.

Korzeniowski insists that he wants none of that removed; nonetheless, certain upgrades are necessary because the exhibit no longer meets international museum standards.

In response to a question from a Knesset minister, Korzeniowski  explained that he is in the process of gathering information about how best to modernize the camp, that all decisions would be made after consultation with authorities on Holocaust commemoration.

The exhibit “was at the time created for people who remembered the war very well,” Korzeniowski reminded the Knesset ministers.

“Now we have a generation of young people whose parents don’t even remember the war.

If we do not change that, this exhibition will say always less to the next generation until it will say nothing at all.”

As to the Holocaust deniers, they are spreading rapidly throughout the globe, even as newer, cleaner genocides are occurring on every continent.


Shortly after 7 p.m. 200 people suddenly assemble on the mezzanine level of the Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central Station, in Manhattan, sit on the floor, then clear their throats loudly twice at intervals of 2 minutes. After exactly 4 minutes, they get up, disperse.

Invoke a system that assigns terrorist scores to airline passengers; the system tracks what passengers eat and drink, their seat assignments, how often they go to the restroom to perform which function, how many smartphone calls they make and how many text messages they post when the aircraft lands at its destination. Passengers must not be apprised of their scores.

Gas or otherwise poison your own humans and blame the Crusaders / Zionists / Jihadists.

Taunt and abuse the deposed tyrant as he is being hanged; nonetheless he dies bravely.

Purchase (at discount) enormous quantities of opium from an Southeast Asian country, sell it to organized crime in the inner cities of your own country, use the profits to buy munitions for a Middle Eastern country to incite an “Arab Spring.”

 Remove contagious tubercular patients from hospitals and instruct them to spit blood into the mouths of anyone they come in contact with.

 Enlist a seductive Mata Hari and slip her out of Central Asia with a vial of smallpox and the orders to contaminate every non-Muslim with whom she consorts.

 Inject a cadre of suicidal fedayeen with smallpox or plague or SARS or Legionnaire’s Disease or flesh-eating bacteria.

Smuggle them into the US with instructions to visit every crowded shopping mall and ballpark and Apple store and Starbucks they can.

Slowly die while fatally infecting everyone in the vicinity.

Use mobile phones, text messaging, e-mail and other instantaneous electronic communication to gather participants for dissidence, as in the 2006 civil unrest in France, which helped coordinate the student and labor union protest at the ill-advised employment statute which the center-right French government, up against the wall, then withdrew.

Get another piercing and join the World Naked Bike Ride, an international event in which naked participants ride together en masse on human-powered transport — primarily bikes but also skateboards, roller blades, roller skates — to protest oil dependency and celebrate the power and individuality of our flesh and blood bodies.

Become a Human Shield, the-nanosecond dance craze, it spans the globe.

The music has been described as a blend of Portuguese Fado and Jamaican Reggae.

Shake your booty, relax.

With one proviso:

Ganja is strictly prohibited.


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