Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the BBC has put together a fascinating package that explores the role that the atrocious death camps still play in contemporary European culture. Many of the camps were built over 70 years ago, and were not meant to be long-term installations. But now, millions of visitors travel to camps like Auschwitz each year to bear witness to the memory of the atrocities.
Time and heavy traffic has led to the gradual deterioration of these sites, and many of the museums on site are facing a financial shortfall that has preservationists worried about how to ensure that future generations will not forget. In some cases, many of the artifacts are slowly starting to deteriorate, such as the shocking room filled with two tons of victims’ hair that can currently be seen at Auschwitz. At the time, the Nazis had sent the hair to textile factories; today scientists acknowledge that it is only a matter of time until it all turns to dust. (You can see a slideshow of many of the deteriorating parts of the camp here).
Part of the problem with preserving these camps is the fact that only a small amount of income comes in to support the effort. In the case of Auschwitz, entry fees are not charged to get into the camps, and tours and book sales add little revenue. And despite being named a World Heritage site, Auschwitz museum operators say that their funding falls far short of what is needed to keep them solvent. For the past 60 years, Poland has kept its promise to preserve the camp, but now they’re arguing that because its a part of the collective European heritage, all countries should offer to help fund its preservation.
The BBC has an interesting point/counterpoint
on this issue. One historian argues: “It might be that we will agree that the best way to honour those who were murdered in the camp and those who survived is by sealing it from the world, allowing grass, roots and brambles to cover, undermine and finally efface that most unnatural creation of Man.” But another historian, who is also a survivor, contends: “It lies in the nature of man that when no tangible traces remain, events of the past fall into oblivion.”
What do you think? Should government financing be spent to preserve the camps?
Photo: via the BBC