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Urgent effort under way to save Auschwitz

OSWIECIM, Poland - The red brick barracks that housed starving inmates are sinking into ruin. Time has warped victims' leather shoes into strange shapes. Human hair sheared to make cloth is slowly turning to dust.

Auschwitz is crumbling - the world's most powerful and important testament to Nazi Germany's crimes is falling victim to age and mass tourism. Now guardians of the memorial site are waging an urgent effort to save what they can before it is too late.

Last week, a global campaign was intensified to raise $165 million to create a "perpetual fund" whose interest can be drawn on indefinitely to repair barracks, watchtowers, crematoria and other structures at the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum and memorial in southern Poland.

The Nazis opened Auschwitz soon after invading Poland in 1939, the act that triggered World War II, using it first as a concentration camp for Poles and political prisoners. As they implemented a plan to exterminate Europe's Jews, Gypsies and others, they built the neighboring death camp of Birkenau.

The Germans ended up transporting people in cattle cars from across the continent to the death camp in the heart of Europe, and murdered at least 1.1 million in gas chambers or through other acts of barbarity. - AP

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