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Uproar in Oświęcim


Oświęcim municipal authorities are in an uproar over the recent protest by the Wiesenthal Center against the construction of a commercial complex at the tannery site. The local government sees the protest as an attack on the right of the local government to make decisions about the future of the city, and reaffirms that Oświęcim, a city of 45,000 with a rich, 800-year-long history, has the right to normal life and municipal development.

The Wiesenthal Center delivered its protest to the Polish prime minister in mid-March. The Center wrote that "the local authorities in Oświęcim are continuing the insensitive actions that, if unopposed, will lead to the desecration of the sacred memory of the victims of Auschwitz."

After the closing of the discotheque that drew protests from various circles, plans were drawn up for a commercial and services center at the tannery site. The provincial monuments officer approved the plans. "I am outraged by this latest protest by the Wiesnthal Center against the construction of a commercial center at the tannery site and by the attack on the sovereign decision by local government authorities," said Oświęcim mayor Józef Krawczyk. "The place where the shopping center is to be built lies one-and-a-half kilometers from the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Prisoners from the camp labored there during the war. However, there is no evidence that people died there. After the war, the Ogar leather works was located in the tannery building." [Museum staff members noted that, in contradiction to the mayor's statement, there is indeed evidence that prisoners perished at the site during the war.]

Krawczyk noted that he found the Wiesenthal Center all the more incomprehensible because Center chairman Abraham Cooper visited Oświęcim two years ago and viewed the site of the project himself. At that time, Cooper expressed reservations over the fact that the discotheque was there.

"To accuse the local government of going about their business over the ashes of the victims is highly immoral and wrongful towards the residents of Oświęcim, who have given repeated proofs of their respect for the tragedy of the Holocaust," said Krawczyk. "There are people living here who risked their own lives and the lives of their families to help and rescue camp prisoners during the war." Krawczyk noted that the Jewish Education Center, an example of good relations between Poles and Jews, had recently been opened in the city.

The numerous conflicts surrounding Oświęcim do not make it any easier for the city to function in an appropriate way, and besmirch the good name of Oświęcim and Poland around the world. The development of the city is hampered, and the effects of economic stagnation are increasingly being felt by the residents. "The city of Oświęcim needs peace and quiet. We owe as much to those who survived the camp, and to the new generation that respects the memory of the victims, but also has a right to a normal life, and to decide about the development of their city," Krawczyk concluded.

Main market square in Oświęcim - western side. Photo Marek Lach
Main market square...