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Germany givs $80 million to fix Auschwitz memorial

Germany pledged Wednesday to pay euro60 million ($80 million) over the next year into a fund for Auschwitz-Birkenau to preserve the barracks, gas chambers and other evidence of Nazi crimes at the former death camp, some of which are deteriorating to the point of collapse.

Germany is the largest of several countries contributing to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Fund, which was set up in 2009 to gather money to maintain the 472-acre expanse made up of the original camp, Auschwitz, the nearby satellite camp of Birkenau. The camp was operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.

More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died in the camp's gas chambers or through forced labor, disease or starvation.

"Germany acknowledges its historic responsibility to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to pass it on to future generations," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement. "Auschwitz-Birkenau is synonymous with the crimes of the Nazis. Today's memorial recalls these crimes."

Museum director Piotr Cywinski first issued a worldwide appeal for help in 2008, saying that euro120 million was needed to repair the memorial site, which stands as one of the most powerful symbols of the Holocaust.

The barracks, gas chambers and other buildings are in need of urgent repair, having been worn down by the ravages of time and the pressure of more than 1 million visitors a year.

The United States has pledged $15 million and Austria euro6 million, while smaller amounts have been promised by the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Estonia and Malta, Auschwitz memorial spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said.

Most urgently in need of repair are the 45 brick barracks of the women's camp in the Birkenau section of the camp, Mensfelt said.

"They are in tragic condition due to the method of their construction and due to the ground water that is washing away the ground where they were built," he said.

"They are crumbling away and could collapse at any time," he added.

The barracks were built during the winter of 1941-42 by Soviet inmates, captured Red Army prisoners who were cruelly treated by the Germans and then executed, Mensfelt said.

Wooden barracks and the ruins of the gas chambers at Birkenau also need urgent repair, as they are crumbling because of harsh weather and sinking due to unstable ground.

The site, set up as a museum in 1947, receives $5 million annually from the Polish government and earns another $5 million by publishing the accounts of survivors, screening documentaries to visitors and from guide fees.

The camp was liberated in January 1945 by Soviet troops.

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