Bosses at the memorial and museum at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp have asked for donations to help fund an income gap from the lack of visitors during lockdown.
Around 2.3 million people – many of them schoolchildren – visit the site every year but staff this week described the “profound emptiness” of a place where more than a million people were killed in occupied Poland during the Second World War.
The coronavirus has forced the memorial’s first ever closure since opening in 1947, and museum leaders are now facing multi-million pound losses from fees typically charged for local guides to lead group tours.
Whilst there is no admission fee, around 80 percent of visitors hire guides who are trained and paid by the memorial, with museum spokesman Paweł Sawicki saying this lack of revenue was putting programmes and jobs at risk.
The fees for group tours, which can last up to two days, are typically between £100 and £200, and accounts for more than half the site’s income.
Despite the funding gap, the site will not be left penniless, because Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage covers basic operating costs and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation covers conservation costs.
Museum Director Piotr Cywiński said that educational work would continue but “without additional funds, the implementation of our statutory operations is called into question”. He added: “For years and decades, we have tried to help others. Today we need actual help ourselves.”
The museum has reorganised exhibitions to minimise the risk of spreading the coronavirus when it reopens, with visitors required to follow a route that avoids crossing paths, and Sawicki said the site would likely reopen in July.
“Right now, the emptiness at the Auschwitz Museum is very profound,” he said. “This is a cemetery, where people were murdered. Our role is to educate about it, to give people the chance to have an experience that is both commemorative and educational. Right now that isn’t happening and this is very sad.”