Auschwitz mini-mall halted by widespread criticism

NEW YORK — In the wake of criticism from Jewish leaders and the Polish government, construction of a mini-mall across the street from the Auschwitz death camp has been halted.

The project came to a stop this week when a Polish retailing outfit, Krakchemia SA, withdrew its participation from the controversial plan to sell food and other services to visitors to Auschwitz.

The mini-mall was to include a supermarket, fast-food restaurant, clothing store and parking lot on the renovated site of a factory.

Jewish leaders termed the proposed shopping center "inappropriate" and "tasteless" when word of the project surfaced earlier this month.

Polish government officials, including President Aleksander Kwasniewski, joined in the criticisms.

Last week, the government called for a halt in construction until late April, when the matter is to be brought before the Auschwitz Museum Council, the body charged with protecting the integrity of the Auschwitz grounds, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

Steinberg described as "rubbish" earlier reports that the council had approved the planned mini-mall, adding that the council was not aware of the shopping center until it was reported by the media.

Steinberg would not rule out the possibility that some food services may yet be offered to Auschwitz visitors.

But, he was "confident that the fast one they tried to pull on us is not going to happen," he added.

"People may well need a place to eat at Auschwitz — but not this kind of profit-making venture."