The 11th session of the International Committee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation took place on October 27, at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland in Warsaw, with the attendance of representatives of the donor nations supporting the Foundation’s Perpetual Fund.
'I would like to thank you all for your commitment to the preservation of the Memorial. We are united by shared goals and a great mission. It is possible because we are together and share common values. The Foundation has credibility capital. We want to convey this information through you to your governments, the authorities and the public. With your commitment, we will fulfil our mission,' said Marek Zając, Chairman of the Board of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, in his opening remarks.
'When the Foundation was established, we knew we had to create a long-term plan for conservation work. During the pandemic, the Foundation played an even more critical role. The Museum was closed during the pandemic, causing budgetary difficulties. However, at no time were the Foundation’s activities or preservation works under threat. Thanks to your commitment, the Foundation has thrived during the difficult months of the pandemic. We have built a system of other institutions around the Foundation and expanded our field of activity. We are coming out of the pandemic even stronger,' added Mr Zając.
Speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Arkady Rzegocki, Head of Foreign Service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: 'Today, I would like to express my gratitude to you, as representatives of the donor countries of the Foundation. In addition to symbolically closing a specific phase of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation’s activities at today’s meeting of the International Committee, we can also begin a new one, thanks to your commitment and contributions.'
'Our mutual objective is to preserve the material evidence of the crime and the Memorial, the remains of the former German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, for present and future generations,' he stressed.
'I would like to thank the representatives of the Foundation, conservators and the staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, headed by its director and president, Piotr Cywiński. Without your work and support, preserving the memory of the Holocaust of European Jews and other victims of the German occupation would be incredibly difficult,' Arkady Rzegocki added.
Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz Museum and president of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, spoke about the precarious situation of the Museum during the pandemic: 'The pandemic severely limited the activities of the Museum. The financial shock and lack of revenue streams to the Museum’s budget meant that we had to consider whether to start making people redundant en masse or suspending all projects, purchases, and investments. The only area of the Memorial’s activity unthreatened was the conservation works. It shows the strength of the Perpetual Fund. Its creation was visionary.'
'The Foundation has also begun work on increasing the fund. We have also started work on educational issues that will not be funded by the Perpetual Fund. In 2020, we also commenced work on redefining the investment policy,' he stressed.
'Through the Foundation’s support of the Museum, we have managed to save jobs and create new conservation programmes, where no qualified people are needed, but rather adequate training. This has saved many jobs. Otherwise, it would have taken years to recreate the team,' he added.
Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, spoke at the session: 'I wish to thank you all very much for coming. Many thanks to all countries that decided to support the Foundation in such a difficult situation as this pandemic. With your support, we have come significantly closer to achieving the full Perpetual Fund.'
'The pandemic caused the Foundation to support the Museum more and more strongly, not only in the preservation of the Memorial but also with broad educational activities using modern technologies,' he stressed.
The use of new technologies at the Memorial requires a modern infrastructure. A letter of intent has recently been signed between Orange, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to create a modern infrastructure providing fast and efficient Internet access: 5G/4G, fibre optic, and wireless connectivity throughout the Memorial.
It will provide enormous support for the project implemented by the Museum, the Foundation and the Israeli company AppsFlyer. 'The project will include innovative tools that provide millions of people with access to education through virtual tours, among others. Consequently, the Memorial and its heritage will become universally accessible to those who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in such an experience. Education using new technologies will also be supported with a donation of PLN 1.5 million from Taiwan.'
'The pandemic brought about many changes in the Museum. Despite the closure of the Memorial, we continued to operate because we had built an interdisciplinary team over several years. We introduced covid procedures and a shift work schedule. Activities in connection with covid were swift. Currently, conservationists and external companies selected via tender procedures are carrying out works at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site. This keeps the work flowing ,'said Rafał Pióro, deputy director of the Auschwitz Museum, responsible for conservation.
The Head of the Master Plan for Preservation at the Museum, Agnieszka Tanistra-Różanowska, spoke about ongoing preservation projects at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site: 'We are currently carrying out 13 projects financed by the Foundation. A great deal of support for conservation work will come from the reconstruction and utilization of the historical buildings known as the “small potato cellars” located near the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site, where plans are underway to create a modern technical facilities base for the Master Plan for Preservation.'
'Thanks to conservation and archaeological work, we are learning increasingly more about historic buildings. The knowledge we obtain continues to broaden our understanding of how the concentration camp was established,' she said.
Sylwia Teofiluk, director of preservation projects at the Foundation, told the meeting: 'We currently have 38 projects in the pipeline, of which 25 have already been completed. Their value is over PLN 43 million. The remaining 13 projects are worth over 80 million zlotys.'
The summer of 2021 saw the completion of conservation works on the first wooden barracks at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site, wholly supported with funding from the Foundation.
During the 11th session, the substantive report on the Foundation’s work for 2020 was approved, including its annual activity and financial plans. The members of the Foundation Council also approved the Foundation’s financial statements for 2020, which, according to the independent audit conducted by KPMG, are once again unquestionable and present a fair and transparent picture of expenditure and cash flow. The financial statements comply in all respects with the legal regulations.
The role of the International Committee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation is to ensure that donor countries have full access to information on the Foundation’s finances and activities. The committee also serves as an advisory and opinion giving body. It is composed of persons recommended by the individual countries.