Group Plans Educational Center at Austrian Concentration Camp

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VIENNA - An association formed to promote remembrance of the Nazi-era Mauthausen concentration camp unveiled plans Wednesday to build an educational center and accommodations for youth at the site.

The group, Mauthausen Committee of Austria, said facilities at the former camp are inadequate in meeting the needs of the large number of students who travel from Austria and abroad each year to visit the site.

By improving the educational center at the former camp and providing housing, the committee hopes to draw more visitors and create a site for learning and reflection on the Holocaust.

Some 200,000 people - Jews, and political prisoners from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Spain and France - were interned at Mauthausen. Half of them were worked to death or otherwise killed before it was liberated May 5, 1945.

Of some 190,000 annual visitors to the site, some 70,000 are students, but many of these cut their visits short because of the difficulties they face in finding overnight accommodations in the area, the group said.

Hans Marsalek, a camp survivor and association chairman, spoke of a dire need to teach younger generations about the "brutality of National Socialism."

"Xenophobia is still very current," Marsalek said, noting the attraction neo-fascism still holds worldwide.

Another organizer, Willi Mernyi, stressed that as more and more Holocaust survivors die each year, it has become more important than ever to develop learning facilities that will enable youth to reflect on the past.

"There are always fewer witnesses [to the Holocaust] who visit, but always more young people," Mernyi said.

The group expects the project to cost 11 million euros ($9.6 million), and said it hopes to have it completed in about four years. Funding was expected from government and other sources.

The exact location for the center has not yet been determined, but organizers want it to be built next to the camp grounds, where an existing memorial and museum are located, some 140 kilometers (90 miles) west of Vienna.

The proposal envisions the youth center housing 120 people at a time and being staffed with teaching personnel and equipped with facilities such as seminar rooms and a library.