WARSAW, Poland -- The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site in southern Poland registered 1.43 million visitors last year, a record number in its 65-year history as a place of Holocaust remembrance, officials said Friday.
For several years now, the grounds of the former Nazi death camp have registered record numbers of visitors. In 2011, there were 1.4 million visitors from across the world, triple the number of a decade before.
In a statement announcing the new figure, director Piotr Cywinski said that in the last decade Auschwitz has become a "fundamental memorial" for all of Europe.
A massive rise in visitors came after Poland joined the European Union in 2004, a development that encouraged many people from across Europe to travel to Poland, and which opened up new air travel connections to the nearby city of Krakow.
The largest group of visitors – 446,000 – were from Poland, followed by large numbers from Britain, the United States, Italy, Germany, Israel and other countries.
The growing tourism is considered important in Holocaust education, but it is straining the site's barracks and other structures, many of which were built of wood and never intended to last so long.
Massive efforts are under way now to preserve the site, with modern laboratories devoted to salvaging objects that belonged to the camp's victims and the buildings. The aim is to maintain the site in as close a state as possible to when it was liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945.
Nazi Germany murdered at least 1.1 million people at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most were Jews, but the victims also included Polish political prisoners, Gypsies, gay people and others.