WARSAW, Poland — A record number of more than 1.72 million visitors came to the Auschwitz memorial in 2015.
The new mark breaks the standard of 1.534 million visitors set last year, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland reported Monday. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in visitors, up from fewer than 500,000 in 2000.
In 2015, Poland clocked the most visitors to the site with 425,000. Rounding out the top five were the United Kingdom (220,000), the United States (141,000), Germany (93,000) and Italy (76,000). Next were Spain (68,000), Israel (61,000), France (57,000), the Czech Republic (47,000) and the Netherlands (43,000).
August saw the most visitors with over 210,000.
“Going through the remnants of the former camp does not constitute only a history lesson,” Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, said in a statement. “It is also the moment of unique reflection on our own responsibility for the shape of our world nowadays. That is why systematic tools supporting educational visits of young people at the Memorial have been created in so many democratic countries.”
Nearly 80 percent of the visitors are guided by museum educators in one of 20 languages.
“The appropriate preparation and training of nearly 300 educators constitutes a challenge taking into account dynamically changing attendance of visitors from different language areas,” said Andrzej Kacorzyk, director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
Created by an act of the Polish Parliament in 1947, the memorial museum comprises two parts — the Auschwitz I camp, entered through the iconic “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, and the vast area of Auschwitz II, at Birkenau, about two miles away.
One of the museum’s key challenges is conserving the site’s deteriorating buildings, ruins, archival holdings and artifacts. The museum is a state-run entity. The Polish government provides more than one-third of the approximately $15-million annual budget, and the European Union also contributes some funding. But more than half of the budget is generated by the museum itself through visitor fees for guides, sales of publications, onsite business concessions and other income sources.
In 2009, a special Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was established to “amass and manage” a perpetual endowment fund of $120 million whose income is specifically earmarked for long-term conservation. Some 35 states have pledged or donated funds to the endowment, including more than half of the sum from Germany alone.