Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Destruction of Nazi Tunnel System “Bergkristall”

Further to my posting on this subject on Wednesday, June 24, 2009, and in response to my letter to the relevant Austrian Minister, I have received the following letter about the in-filling of the Nazi "Bergkristall" underground armaments factory that was manned by Jewish inmates of the Gusen 2 Concentration Camp:

Dear Madam and Sir,
The Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG) is currently carrying out safety work in the tunnel system in St. Georgen an der Gusen on behalf of the owners. The work is the concluding part of a restoration programme lasting several years carried out by BIG on commission to safeguard and preserve the tunnel system.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), the backfilling technique chosen by BIG does not secure the tunnel system but only the terrain. BIG’s choice of technique is supported in an expert opinion by Univ. Prof. Dr. Leopold Weber from the mining authority and the University of Leoben, which states that large sections of the underground system are in acute or potential danger of collapsing, hence the decision to backfill part of the system as a safety measure.

Despite the fact that the BMI is not responsible for preservation of the tunnel system, we nevertheless consider it our duty as representatives of the Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camp memorials to remind BIG of its primary objective of “safeguarding and preserving” the tunnel. For this reason a written appeal has also been sent by the BMI to all relevant institutions — the Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft and the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments (Bundesdenkmalamt) — to preserve the tunnel system as far as possible and to limit backfilling to those areas that are in acute danger of collapsing.

On conclusion of the safety work, the preservation of the tunnel system will call for concerted efforts by the institutions involved and the local authorities and civil society. The BMI sees it as its task to find realistic solutions that provide a worthy memorial to authentic sites of terror.
Further information on the subject and on the Gusen memorial can be found on our websites http://www.mauthausen-memorial.at/ and http://www.gusen-memorial.at/.

Yours faithfully,
For the Federal Minister...

The Gusen Memorial web site now has the following information on it [my emphasis added]:

Gusen concentration camp memorial
photo by Helga Loidold

Gusen concentration camp memorial — current developments and background to the discussion on the Bergkristall tunnel system in St. Georgen

The Bergkristall tunnel system in St. Georgen is owned by the Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG). It is not currently listed as a historical monument site and is not administered by the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI). The BMI was not informed by BIG about the restoration work in the tunnel. After it learnt of the work, it urged BIG to preserve the tunnel system as far as possible and to limit the backfilling operations to those areas that are acutely in danger of collapsing. The BMI will continue in future to support the preservation of the tunnel system.

The possibility of opening of the tunnel system to the public was studied by BIG in 2005 when the first safety measures under way but no further action was taken. Since 2003, however, various projects have been carried out in cooperation with the former Gusen concentration camp, to which the tunnel system in St. Georgen belongs, on behalf of or with the financial support of the BMI, with particular emphasis on research and determination of the historical events...

...At the instigation of the Federal Ministry of the Interior the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments (BDA) initiated a procedure in 2007 to protect the entire site of the former Gusen camp complex. Following several appeals against the provisional decision by the BDA, an independent expert opinion on the historical significance of the site has been obtained, which will form the basis for further action. The safeguarding of the remaining structures in the camp is a necessary prerequisite for future consideration of the Gusen memorial concept.
As with the protection issue, the concept must also take into account the entire Gusen complex. Not least with a view to preventing “sensationalist tourism”, the concept for the St. Georgen tunnel system cannot be seen in isolation but rather as part of an overall Mauthausen – Gusen – St. Georgen memorial site.

The concept for the restructuring of the Mauthausen concentration camp explicitly calls for emphasising the sites of former satellite camps, particularly Gusen. For this reason, the BMI is suggesting the formation of a working group together with the relevant institutions and local policymakers and with the involvement the Modern History Department of the University of Vienna to consider ideas for the future management of the Gusen memorial in general and the tunnel system in St. Georgen in particular.
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