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Tuesday, November 10, 1998 Published at 16:41 GMT


World: Europe

Jews reclaim Auschwitz memorial

About 1.5 million people were killed at Auschwitz

By Warsaw Correspondent James Coomarasamy

The historic synagogue in the Polish town of Oswiecim - formerly known as Auschwitz - has been rededicated.

The ceremony marks the end of a tragic historical cycle.

Before the war the synagogue was one of a dozen places of worship for the 7,000 Jews who lived in the town.

But during the Nazi holocaust it became a place where they were brought before being deported.

In 1946, it was seized by Poland's communist authorities and used as a carpet warehouse until earlier this year.

In March, though, the synagogue became the first building to be handed back to the Jewish community under a Polish government programme to restore seized Jewish property.

An international organisation, the Auschwitz Jewish Centre Foundation, has since been handed control of the building.

It intends to pour several million dollars into making it a centre of prayer and eternal memorial.

It will thus become the first permanent Jewish presence in the town since the holocaust. According to the head of the foundation, the goal is to create a structure representing Jewish life in a place that has only represented Jewish death.

But not far from where the ceremony took place, there is evidence that not all the wounds have been healed.

A group of Polish nationalists are still guarding a field of crosses erected in defiance of the government to protest at the absence of Catholic symbols at the former death camp.



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