Israel for decades has been purchasing gas masks from the same German suppliers that once supplied protective equipment to Nazi soldiers operating the gas chambers in Auschwitz and other death camps during the Holocaust.
The companies — Dräger and Auer (now owned by American firm MSA) — have been selling gas masks and filters to a number of Israeli government institutions since the 1967 Six Day War, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported on Thursday.
The decades-long relationship was exposed by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem in a recent study on the gas chambers at Auschwitz, and based on previous research of French Holocaust scholar and Auschwitz expert Jean-Claude Pressac.
In his 1989 book “Auschwitz: Technique and operation of the gas chambers,” Pressac found that all SS soldiers involved in gassing Jews at the death camp were equipped with a jointly made Dräger-Auer mask to protect against the cyanide-based poison Zyklon B that was used to murder millions of Jews during the Holocaust.
According to Yedioth, the museum found that both companies regularly supply gas masks and other equipment to the Defense Ministry, the Firefighting and Rescue Commission, Israel Railways, Israel Police and the Israel Prisons Service.
In preparation for the 1991 Gulf War, Israel distributed gas masks to civilians fearing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would launch a chemical weapons attack on the Jewish state.
With fears that a potential US-led military intervention in neighboring Syria in 2013 would trigger a retaliatory chemical weapons strike on Israel, public demand for the masks quadrupled, and many distribution points were massively under stocked.
The government continued the costly policy of supplying millions of Israelis with protective gear until January 2014 when the distribution was halted over what Israeli officials said was a “drastic” reduction of the threat of a chemical weapons attack from Syria.
In response to Yad Vashem’s findings, Dräger this week issued a statement saying that while it was ordered to provide gas masks for the Nazis, the company was told at the time they were for civilians.
The American company MSA also addressed the report, saying their equipment has “kept firefighters, police officers, emergency teams, industrial workers and soldiers — including in the Israeli army — from harm. The American MSA did not provide the Germans with equipment during World War II, it acquired the Auergesellschaft factory in 1958, long after it was no longer providing gas masks to the German army.”
Meanwhile the Defense Ministry said it was “unfamiliar with claims about their past history,” while the Firefighting and Rescue Commission simply confirmed it purchases equipment from the companies and praised their products as “among the best in the world.”