By Joanna Plucinska
WARSAW (Reuters) – Angela Merkel will make her first visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial on Friday after 14 years as German chancellor, bringing a 60 million euro donation to help conserve the site where the Nazis ran their largest death camp, the museum said.
Merkel has not shied away from admitting German responsibility for its atrocities in World War Two, but her visit will ensure she follows in the footsteps of former chancellors by seeing the site before her term ends.
“Auschwitz is a museum but is also the biggest cemetery in the world … (memory) is the key to building the present and future,” museum director Piotr Cywinski told Reuters ahead of Merkel’s visit at the invitation of the Auschwitz foundation.
Merkel will announce the donation, half of which comes from Germany’s federal government and half from the regional governments, at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.
The money will cement Germany’s place as the largest donor to the foundation, which funds the conservation efforts for the site where more than 1 million people died in what was then Nazi-occupied Poland.
More than 3 million of Poland’s 3.2 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, accounting for about half of the Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The money will ensure that the conservation of 30 brick barracks in the Birkenau camp site, including an old kitchen and latrine, for example, can continue.
“Many of the buildings were not built to last long,” Cywinski said, adding that the foundation needs between 18 million zlotys to 20 million zlotys ($4.62 million to $5.13 million) annually to maintain conservation.
“I want to show that these funds are created as a tool for the future, for the next generation, for education. It’s not a way to point the finger at a country’s history, because that’s not my role.”
The proceeds from the foundation’s fund, which relies on payouts from bonds and was opened a decade ago, proved to be lower than hoped in part due to the financial crisis in 2009.
Cywinski, who had also considered riskier stock market investments, appealed to donor countries for more support two years ago. Germany is the only country that has responded to date. The United States and Poland have previously been big donors.
Merkel has previously visited other concentration camp sites and met survivors of Auschwitz.
($1 = 3.8990 zlotys)
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Editing by Alison Williams)