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The Gravel Pit Returns to the War Victims Association


"Please don't worry about the Gravel Pit. If the solemnity or character of the place are violated in any way, I can react immediately and issue a new decision," said Ryszard Maslowski, governor of Malopolska province, after a September 18 Supreme Administrative Court verdict overturned an earlier decree by Maslowski and the minister of internal affairs and administration.

That previous decree had stripped the War Victims Association of its rights to the Auschwitz Gravel Pit. The governor indicated that he anticipated a new decree to remove the Gravel Pit from War Victims Association control. The new edict would contain the legal arguments and documentation that the court found lacking in the original order. However, Maslowski said that he would not make a final decision until he had seen the most recent verdict. He reiterated that he continued to maintain full supervision over everything that happens at the Gravel Pit, which still belongs to the state treasury. The May 7, 1999 law on the preservation of Nazi death camp sites empowers him to react immediately to any infringement on the solemnity and character of the site.

The Supreme Administrative Court overturned the previous ruling against the War Victims Association on the grounds that it did not contain the required documentation, relying on press clippings rather than official correspondence and police reports. The Court refused to accept the claim that the incidents violating the solemnity of the site were so well known that there was no need for a detailed examination of them. However, Maslowski emphasized, the Court did not question the correctness of the earlier decision, but only pointed out the incompleteness of the supporting documentation.

The Gravel Pit, located next to the concentration camp wall, was previously held in perpetuity by the Carmelite Sisters, who in turn leased it to the War Victims Association. The Pit was the sight of a bitter conflict after Kazimierz Switon organized the erection of some 300 crosses there. The Polish state treasury dissolved the Carmelite Sisters' freehold and paid them compensation two years ago, and then annulled the War Victims Association lease. However, the Association claimed that the annulment of the lease was illegal and refused to vacate the Gravel Pit. The law on Nazi death camp sites, which came into force on May 25, gave the provincial governor the right to decide the fate of the Gravel Pit, with the backing of the minister of internal affairs and administration.

A civil suit on the annulment of the lease is also underway. The regional court in the city of Oswiecim ruled in favor of the state treasury. The War Victims Association lodged an appeal. The district court in Bielsko-Biala found certain procedural shortcomings in the original decision and sent the case back to the regional court in Oswiecim for retrial. "We are waiting for the court to set a date for the trial," said Miroslaw Chrapusta, director of the legal department for the province of Malopolska.