LETTER : The pass has already been sold at Auschwitz

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Sir: Reports ("This is the man who planned to open a supermarket at Auschwitz", 13 March) on the development of a supermarket in factory buildings opposite the main entrance to the site of the concentration/death camp at Auschwitz have understandably raised concerns for those who do not know the landscapes of the camp and its environs.

This development would be offensive if the whole of the SS complex of camps had been preserved at liberation in 1945. From the very outset, however, the landscape has been altered. At Birkenau (the death camp for the extermination of Jews and gypsies) many of the wooden barracks were shipped off to provide temporary housing for Warsaw's homeless. At the Auschwitz main camp the SS housing was occupied by the local Polish population, the prisoner reception building became the museum visitor reception area with refreshment facilities, bookstall, cinema and a hotel.

All of this was done without explanation to the visitor so it is no wonder inappropriate behaviour sometimes occurs; visitors are not guided to understand when they cross the divide between the secular world and this more sacred space.

Since the fall of Communism this has been exacerbated by entrepreneurial ventures: hot dogs and ice cream can be purchased by the main entrance. Booksellers now almost crowd up to the Arbeit macht frei gate.

So what's new about this supermarket? The pass has already been sold. The tragedy is that the whole thing is being played out as a slanging match between Jews and Poles, which will perpetuate Auschwitz as a site of contestation rather than reconciliation.

Andrew Charlesworth

Reader in Human Geography

Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education