THE POLISH government has announced plans for a $100 million re-development at the former Auschwitz concentration camp after a series of disputes over the site's use for religious and commercial activities.

The three-stage project, announced June 25 by the governor of Poland's Bielsko county, Marek Trombski, is expected to last until the year 2007, and will include a reduction in the UNESCO-declared 500-meter “Protected Zone” around the former German-run camp to include only historic buildings directly connected to it. However, the redrawn zone will then be closed to warehouses, shops and parking lots, while surrounding roads will be diverted away to exclude traffic.

The announcement follows international protests of plans by a Polish-German investment company, Maja, to open a shopping mall opposite the camp's main gate. Authorities in the neighboring Polish town of Oswiecim ordered building work on the $480,000 mall suspended in March. However, Maja chairman Janusz Marszalek refused to accept the ruling and said in early June he planned to resume construction.

Among other reactions, the director of Auschwitz's Interfaith Center for Prayer and Dialogue, Father Piotr Wrona, accused local investors of “surrendering to bad taste and a desire for profit” and said the camp area should be protected in view of its “deep sensitivity to Jews,” who made up at least 90 percent of Auschwitz's estimated 1.5 million Holocaust victims.

A group of U.S. Congressmen, in a March resolution, branded the shopping mall an act of “desecration and trivialization,” warning that it violated Poland's international commitments and could jeopardize the country's entry to NATO.

Speaking June 25, the head of Poland's government office, Leszek Miller, said he believed the shopping mall could still go ahead if it conformed with the new redevelopment project. However, all work within the current “Protected Zone” would be suspended, Miller added, until full details of the project were finalized. A detailed first-stage program, is to be unveiled by Sept. 15. (Jonathan Luxmoore)