The 12th session of the International Committee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation took place on 18 October at the Auschwitz Memorial, attended by representatives of the donor countries supporting the Foundation's Perpetual Fund. Some committee members were present online.
‘This meeting is of fundamental importance to us. Transparency and clarity are essential to the Foundation's activities. Our gratitude goes to all donor countries for their support. In the past, we have faced the threat that the historic site will be destroyed, that the barracks and objects, which are often the only remaining traces of the victims, will cease to exist,’ said Marek Zając, Chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Council, at the opening of the session.
‘One of the best teams of conservators has been working at the Museum for 15 years. We were prepared for the challenge. However, the costs associated with preservation envisaged for decades were enormous. Hence, the Foundation has been raising funds to keep these works ongoing. Many thanks to you and your communities for your support. It is worth emphasising that 2021 was a record year in terms of the sum of money transferred for conservation from the Foundation to the Museum,’ he stressed.
At the beginning of the meeting, Piotr Szpanowski, Deputy Director of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, read a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Culture and National Heritage Professor Piotr Glinski. "Thanks to the continued activity of the Committee and the Foundation, we can pursue the Master Plan for Preservation, financed with proceeds from the endowment fund. We are proud that Poland has also made a substantial financial contribution to this fund, making it possible to continuously carry out large-scale and unprecedented preservation work," wrote Piotr Gliński.
Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz Museum and President of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, spoke about the difficult situation of the Museum in the period of recovery from the pandemic: ‘2021 was a challenging year, as most of the Museum's budget is linked to attendance. In these difficult moments, the endowment fund formula proved crucial to maintaining the constancy of preservation works. Last year, the Financial Committee worked to diversify the Foundation's investment policy. As a result, we have found new and safe investment forms’. He further added that it is imperative that committee members can see on-site how the preservation works at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau grounds are progressing.
Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, spoke at the meeting about the educational projects being developed, above all, the online live tours: ‘Shortly, every person in the world will be able to visit the Memorial on a guided live tour. A test version of a special application has already been created, thanks to a collaboration with Israeli companies Appsflyer and Diskin. It will enable us to reach out to those who cannot visit Poland in person. We are also working on the assumptions of an educational programme for schools. The project implementation is facilitated by the support of Orange, which has provided stable and fast wireless internet access throughout the grounds of the Memorial.’
The year 2021 was a record year for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. The Perpetual Fund has grown by more than PLN 142 million, primarily due to the last part of the German donation and increased donations from Sweden, Italy, Turkey, Ireland and Portugal. A total of $190,000 was credited to the Fund through the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation in New York, primarily from donors making up the so-called Pillar of Remembrance from Philadelphia. A record amount was also allocated last year for preservation works: PLN 22.3 million.
‘The Mater Plan for Preservation is being carried out smoothly, according to a continuously updated schedule, optimally from an organisational point of view, but just as importantly, purposefully and efficiently from a financial point of view. This result has been achieved thanks to the Museum's professional conservation team. They are experts with exceptional qualifications and competence, as well as experience gained during many years of work at the Memorial," said Rafał Pióro, deputy director of the Museum responsible for conservation.
‘As many as 15 projects are currently being implemented simultaneously. Perhaps in 2022, the sum will exceed PLN 25 million. Many projects are in the primary phase of implementation. Brick buildings, wooden barracks and drainage ditches at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site are undergoing preservation. Technical facilities for conservators are also being built near the former camp. Ongoing projects include the conservation of historical objects and archival documents,’ said Agnieszka Tanistra-Różanowska, head of the Master Plan for Preservation.
‘Given the situation in Ukraine, in March 2022, we decided to launch a special scholarship project at the Memorial for professional development in preserving objects of martyrdom for Ukrainian conservators,’ added Sylwia Teofiluk, Director of Conservation Projects at the Foundation. During the meeting, the German ambassador to Poland, Dr. Thomas Bagger, announced that Germany would contribute €180,000 to fund this unique programme.
The second part of the meeting involved a visit by members of the International Committee to the grounds of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, where they could see the conservation work in progress on the disinfection building, the barracks for prisoners and one of the latrines.
The 12th session of the International Committee also included the presentation of the substantive report on the work of the Foundation for 2021 and the annual action and financial plans. The Foundation's financial statements for 2021, according to the independent audit by KPMG, are again without reservations and present a fair and clear picture of expenditure and cash flow. The financial statements comply in all respects with the provisions of the law.
The Perpetual Fund created and managed by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation has already been supported by nearly 40 countries. Currently, the Perpetual Capital stands at approx. €177 million out of the targeted €180 million. Proceeds from the invested capital are transferred for the preservation of the Auschwitz Memorial.
The role of the International Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Committee is to ensure that donor countries have full access to information on the Foundation's finances and activities. The Committee also serves in an advisory and consultative capacity. It is composed of persons recommended by individual countries.