A donation of US$5.5m (€4.96m, £4.55m) will go towards the development of a new visitor services centre at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial – the museum located on the site of the World War Two Nazi concentration camp in Poland.
The donation comes through the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, with Ronald S. Lauder, who has been a donor and supporter of the Memorial for several decades, providing US$5m (€4.5m, £4.14m), and Joel Citron and his wife Ulrika, who have previously donated to the Memorial, donating half a million dollars (€451,200, £413,900).
Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Piotr M. A. Cywiński, said the new visitor centre was "an undertaking befitting the 21st century".
"The new infrastructure will include a new car park and a new entrance to the Museum, as well as a new exhibition space, cinema and hostel for the needs of education, conferences and volunteer work," he said. "Such ambitious investments would not have been possible without the help of private donors – people who entirely and responsibly feel that memory has a great role to play."
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation is a charity organisation whose activities are committed to the protection of the Memorial site. Ronald S. Lauder said the preservation of the camps and the memory of what had happened there, has been one of his greatest priorities since first walking through the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gate 40 years ago.
"Back in the 1980s, I saw how much there is still to be done to maintain it since the end of the war and I knew that within a short time, there would be nothing left for future generations to see. If there was nothing left to see, people would never believe what really happened there," he said.
"The only way we can prevent another Shoah (a Hebrew word meaning "calamity" - commonly used to refer to the 20th-century holocaust) is through education, and ensuring that as many people as possible bear witness to this terrible place where the worst atrocities known to mankind occurred. The new visitor centre will be an integral part of this experience and it will enable visitors to enter Auschwitz-Birkenau in an understanding frame of mind."
The museum is currently implementing a number of additional projects, including a preservation plan, a new main exhibition, a new headquarters for the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, and changes to the Polish exhibition.
It said that there has been a nearly five-fold increase in the number of people who want to learn about the history of Auschwitz over the last dozen or so years, necessitating a change in the reception and service of visitors. Consequently, a tender procedure is already ongoing for part of the project to build a new visitor service centre, which is being developed thanks to EU funding and support from the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
The new funds from Ronald S. Lauder and Joel and Ulrika Citron will enable the implementation of one of the complementary projects to the new Visitor Service Centre.