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Wednesday April 11, 2001

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Polish provincial governor orders Auschwitz disco shut down

By The Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland - A Polish governor has ordered the closure of a disco that angered Jewish groups when it opened in a former tannery where Auschwitz concentration camp inmates worked and died, a spokesman said yesterday.

Provincial Gov. Ryszard Maslowski decided to overrule authorities in Oswiecim, the Polish name for the southeastern city of Auschwitz, and revoke a permit for the disco.

"This decision will be carried out in the near future, and the disco will leave the building of the former tannery," his spokesman, Artur Paszko, said by telephone from the governor's office in Krakow.

He said the decision was based strictly on the governor's judgment that the disco violated local building codes and other regulations.

The dance club, about a mile from the main Auschwitz camp and museum site, opened last summer after city authorities brushed aside protests and granted a permit.

The disco's owner, Rafal Waliczek, said yesterday he had not received any order to close. "As for today, we are still playing," he said.

The club has enraged camp survivors and organizations in Poland and abroad, who argue that running a disco near the site of the Nazi camp set up during the German occupation in World War II showed a lack of respect for the 1.5 million people who perished in Auschwitz.

The location also drew objections from the Solidarity-led government of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, whose foreign minister, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, 79, is an Auschwitz survivor.

Historians say many of about 1,000 prisoners who worked in the tannery died there, and that the building also was used to store property and hair of Jews killed in the gas chambers.

Waliczek argued at the time that the club was well outside a 100-yard deep commercial-free zone set up around the Auschwitz memorial. Oswiecim's mayor, Jozef Krawczyk, said he would propose another location for the disco, farther from the camp, the national daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported.

Paszko of the governor's office said the disco's operator had failed to win approval from neighbors, including an international youth meeting and prayer center. He said the disco also had failed to obtain authorization from the local construction authority to turn the building into a restaurant and a dance club.

The governor revoked the decision acting on a motion from the youth center.

Over the past few years, Jewish organizations have protested other plans to build a mini-mall across from the Auschwitz museum. The project has been limited to a visitor center.