An Israeli rabbi says he was detained at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp on Friday for leading a group of visiting Australians and South Africans who sang Jewish songs while visiting there.
According to an account posted to Facebook by Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, security guards demanded on several occasions that the Bnei Akiva group he was leading stop singing and threatened to arrest him if they did not.
Ostroff said he was given the choice of 24-hour imprisonment or paying a $350 fine, which he opted to pay given the imminent start of the Sabbath.
The rabbi said that the group included members whose grandparents were held or killed at the camp and that the songs they sang, such as the Jewish song “Ani Maamin” (I believe), were sung by prisoners there who were led to their deaths.
“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,” he wrote in the post.
Ostroff demanded a formal apology from the camp’s administration and a reimbursement of the fine he paid, warning that the perceived lack of understanding on behalf of the staff could lead to a ban on carrying an Israeli flags “as it might offend someone.”
The camp administration said in response that the behavior of the group was “disruptive” and “unacceptable” at the memorial site. “The noise [from the singing] disturbed other guides and visitors,” it said in a statement quoted by NRG.
The head of security at the site also told the website that the group completely ignored the guards’ request to stop singing, adding that Ostroff refused to identify himself and present the necessary papers when asked, forcing the guards to call the police.