Gordon Brown responds to plea from Poland for help with the conservation of the former extermination camp
The British government is to fund crucial maintenance work at Auschwitz-Birkenau to help halt the deterioration of the crumbling former concentration camp. Gordon Brown is responding to a plea made by the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, for the international community to help with the conservation of the camp, which is nearly 70 years old.
In February Tusk wrote to European leaders calling for the creation of a €120m pot to pay for the upkeep of the site. Today Brown was making his first visit to the two sites of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
In a book of condolence at Auschwitz, Brown was expected to write: "In this place of desolation I reaffirm my belief that we all have a duty. Each and every one of us, not to stand by but to stand up against discrimination."
Auschwitz was built as a Polish army barracks in 1940 but adapted to become a concentration camp shortly afterwards. Birkenau was established 3km away as a death camp, and it is thought that more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed there. The two camps were merged in 1942 becoming the Nazi's largest camp.
At the moment the Polish government shoulders the burden of the funding for site maintenance and the running of its museums, directly funding half the required 20 million zloty (£4m) with unreliable tourism revenue making up the rest. In the immediate aftermath of the second world war the museum was involved in repairing buildings. These had been destroyed by the Nazis in an attempt to remove incriminating evidence in the face of Red Army advances.
Though Brown said today the UK will provide funding for this site, government aides were unable to say how much or when. Speaking ahead of his visit to Auschwitz, Brown told a press conference: "We will join with other countries in supporting the maintenance and retention of the memorial at Auschwitz."
As chancellor in 2005 Brown made funding available to send two teenagers from every British secondary school to visit Auschwitz annually. The funding for this has now been extended to 2011. Future government plans include the creation of a new award to recognise those Britons who helped protect Jews during the second world war.