Auschwitz camp museum at risk of flooding
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Nazi Germany's biggest and most infamous death camp in Poland, faces the danger of catastrophic flooding unless urgent action is taken to protect it, an expert has warned.
Andrzej Telka, a specialist in flood protection, said that the camp, which is now a museum and memorial to the millions who perished there during the Holocaust, faces the growing risk of flooding from the nearby River Vistula.
"If the unusual weather patterns we have seen continue a tragedy is going to happen," he said.
Mr Telka, who is also a former mayor of Oswiecim, the Polish town closest to camp, added that at particular risk is the section of Auschwitz-Birkenau where pyres once consumed the countless victims, and a serious flood could wash away the victims' ashes.
He has called for the instigation of a flood-protection plan, drawn up after in 1998 after serious flooding in Poland the year before. Under the scheme, which Mr Telka claimed has been hampered and blocked by environmentalists, the current system of dykes running along the River Vistula would be raised and strengthened.
A local councillor and board member of the Auschwitz Museum trust, Stanislaw Rydzon, has added his voice to calls for greater protection, saying that the camp was almost flooded 2001 when the Vistula almost burst its banks following days of torrential rain.
A spokesman from the Malopolska regional council said they had plans to renovate the dykes, but conceded that the work may not start until 2010.
The flooding fears come as another source of concern over the upkeep of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which attracts around 500,000 visitors each year.
Piotr Cywinski, the museum's director, has said that a number of pre-war brick buildings in the Auschwitz section of the camp could collapse owing to subsidence, and there are perpetual worries over the state of the flimsy wooden barracks that once housed hundreds of thousands of inmates at Birkenau.
The director has said that renovation costs could come to £48 million, twenty times his annual budget from the state.
The threats to the camp have spread alarm among Holocaust survivors.
"If anything happened to the camp it would be a tragedy as so much would be lost for future generations," said former Auschwitz inmate Ziggy Shipper.
"There are other camps, like Belsen, that are visited but they don't compare to Auschwitz because they were destroyed; there is nothing really there, nothing to tell you that there was concentration camp."