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Sobibor Memorial Plans Suspended Amid Controversy

Polish authorities suspended the planned construction of a controversial memorial monument at the former Sobibor Nazi death camp, activists against the plan said.

The suspension of the plan followed talks last month between the Polish ministry of culture and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, over concerns that the proposed construction would destroy archaeological findings and disturb human remains, JTA has learned.

“In the end, it was decided to suspend and rethink the planned construction,” confirmed Yoram Haimi, an Israeli archaeologist whose team in September discovered the foundations of the gas chambers at Sobibor, which were thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis.

Haimi added that he did not know what would come instead of the proposed $5 million monument or where it would be built. “We are waiting for new plans to be drawn up and brought for approval in Warsaw. Maybe the monument will remain unchanged, but for its construction outside the camp instead of on it,” added Haimi.

Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage announced in 2011 its plans to erect a visitor’s center and the monument – a mile-long wall along the path, discovered by Haimi, by which the Nazis led Jews to the gas chambers. But citing concerns over construction on a mass grave with countless archaeological finds, Yad Vashem voiced its concerns over the plan last year, as did the Netherlands-based Sobibor Foundation.

Both bodies belong to the Sobibor Steering Committee, an international forum that funded part of the construction project and which includes representatives from leading Israeli and European Holocaust institutions.

Yad Vashem would not confirm the suspension. Asked about it, a spokesperson said “negotiations are ongoing.” The office of Tomasz Kranz, director of the State Museum at Majdanek and the person responsible for the Sobibor project, did not immediately reply to a JTA query on the matter.

But Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths commemoration group which lobbied for the project to be scrapped, told JTA he, too, had received confirmation of its suspension. He added his group maintains all and any construction should happen outside the compound where 250,000 people were murdered.

If not for “our dozens of trips to the site and exposure like we received by JTA on the issue, they would be building now,” he added.

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