Behaviour of Auschwitz guards leaves bad taste

  • Bnei Akiva
Last week Friday I was leading a group of Bnei Akiva members from Australia and South Africa to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
by RAFI OSTROFF | Aug 06, 2014
As usual the group sang holy songs of prayer during the visit. The guards of the camp hounded us all the time, shouting at us not to sing. Even in the gas chamber of Auschwitz 1, the guard came up to me and shouted at me: "Tell them immediately to shut up!".

We then went to Birkenau. In a secluded part of the camp the boys spontaneously started singing "Ani Maamin", the song that prisoners sang on the way to be murdered there. A guard drove after us with his car and demanded that the group be silent. I told him that I didn’t have control over this as they were singing from their hearts. He then threatened to arrest me and called the police.

In my group were a few boys whose grandparents were prisoners or were murdered in Auschwitz. We cried a lot on that day when they shared their stories with us.

I was threatened with 24 hours imprisonment or paying a 1 000 zloty fine (about $350). I opted to pay, as it was two hours before Shabbat.

It is totally unacceptable that the camp administration treats Jewish groups as if we are tourists to the site like any other group. They have to be considerate and compassionate to Jewish groups. We are not visiting there out of curiosity; it is a journey to the depths of our souls.

If the camp administration does not understand this, then they are incompetent to be in charge of this sacred site. The next rule will be that we are not allowed to carry Israeli flags, as it might offend someone…

I demand a formal apology from the camp administration and the refund of the fine that I had to pay.

Please help raise the awareness of this issue for all future Jewish groups to Auschwitz-Birkenau.


  1. 3 Gwen Podbrey 07 Aug
    While the behaviour of the guards may have been curt and seemed unnecessarily harsh, and I understand how it upset you, it is important to remember that many visitors to Auschwitz would find singing of any kind intrusive and inappropriate. You also need to remember that the camp attracts visitors of many different affiliations and backgrounds, whose notions of what constitutes appropriate behaviour may differ widely, so the guards need to impose the same rules uniformly without making exceptions for Jewish visitors. The camp is not a synagogue and the sound of ANYBODY singing there - however heartfelt or sincere - can be extremely disruptive to people wanting the silence and restraint in which to reflect and mourn on the significance of the place. Auschwitz is also a memorial to hundreds of thousands of NON-Jewish victims - like gypsies, homosexuals and political prisoners - not only Jews, even though Jews were the primary targets there. The singers in your group need to conform with what constitutes respectful, dignified and considerate behaviour in ANY memorial, ANYWHERE in the world.
  2. 2 Mordechai 08 Aug
    I have had two sons on the Australian MTA program at Gush and another son visit Poland with Yeshiva Har Etzion, and they have always had the groups singing holy songs of prayer during the visit without an issue. There is no way any one can justify the behaviour of the Anti Semitic guards - the actions of the guards was pure Anti Semitism
  3. 1 Gwen Podbrey 11 Aug
    Good gracious me, how glibly you use the term "anti-Semitic" for any action at all that doesn't accommodate your particular wishes!!! The Auschwitz camp is, by its very existence, a memorial to the millions of NAzi victims who perished there. Jewish groups who visit it cannot simply vent themselves of their desire to sing or make a noise and expect to be treated differently from others. I suggest you and Rafi Ostroff try bursting into song, however heartfelt, at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, the grave of the Unknown Soldier in WEstminster Abbey or inside the Anne Frank House in AMsterdam, and see how quickly and peremptorily you would be not only told to keep quiet, but booted out. Behave with decorum and respect and others will behave the same way towards you.


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