A group of Israelis visiting the site of Auschwitz death camp have slammed as “distasteful” and “offensive” the decision to install mist-spray showers near the entrance to the museum.
But managers of the memorial site have defended their decision, explaining that the units were installed after some visitors fainted in the summer heat.
“As a Jew who has lost so many relatives in the Holocaust, they looked like the showers that the Jews were forced to take before entering the gas chambers,” Meir Bulka, 48, an Israeli visitor to the memorial told the Jerusalem Post.
“All the Israelis felt this was very distasteful,” he said. “Someone called it a ‘Holocaust gimmick.’”
Bulka, one of a party of Israeli visitors, decided to confront management about the installation. “The management decided that it was a good way to cool people off on a very hot day,” Bulka said. “They said they were sorry if I was offended, and I told them that there is no way to apologize to the victims of the Holocaust.”
But a spokesman for the museum has insisted that the “showers” – actually a mist spritzer – were necessary to help visitors not used to the searing heat of a Polish heatwave cool down while waiting to buy tickets.
“Because of the extreme heat wave we have experienced in August in Poland, mist sprinklers which cool the air were placed near the entrance to the Museum,” Pawel Sawicki told TIME. “The mist sprinkles do not look like showers and the fake showers installed by Germans inside some of the gas chambers were not used to deliver gas into them.”
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Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, he reiterated that “no showers were placed at the parking lot of the museum.”
“Because of the heat wave in Poland, sprinklers which cool the air were placed near the entrance to the museum,” he explained. “They are located near the area where – in the open sun and without any possibility of hiding in the shade – a queue of people who collect the entry cards to the memorial site is formed.
“Among visitors there are many people who come from countries where such high temperatures as we have this summer in Poland do not occur. We have noticed cases of fainting among people. Therefore we must do everything possible to minimize the risks connected with the heat and high temperatures and take care of the safety of health of our visitors.
“The sprinklers are installed on the days of highest temperatures and removed with the temperature drops.”
Reactions from the local Jewish community were mixed, although all agreed that the staff should have been more sensitive to the victims of the holocaust.
Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich commented: “Temperatures reached 40°C and the administration wanted to ensure the safety of their visitors.
“In retrospect, a more sensitive construction and location could have been found. However, I am moved by the concern for the welfare of visitors shown by the administration.”
Colette Avital, the chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said: “We would expect people who deal with of the Holocaust, especially in a place like Auschwitz, to think before they act and to be more sensitive.”
Piotr Kadlcik, the immediate past president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, agreed with both, commenting:
“The Germans twisted the concept of shower – a source of cleanness and relief – into the equivalent of pure horror. We shall not follow this path.
“[However], the unprecedented heat wave during this summer required proper measures. It is a sign of care for the visitors by museum staff.”