Auschwitz rebuffs criticism of its new sprinklers

In response to The Times of Israel, museum says people shouldn’t take offense over ‘showers’ for overheated visitors

Railway tracks lead to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland (photo credit: Serge Attal/Flash90)
Railway tracks lead to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland (photo credit: Serge Attal/Flash90)

The Auschwitz Museum on Monday dismissed criticism of its installation of sprinklers at the entrance to the Nazi death camp, saying they were put there for the health and safety of visitors during extreme summer heat, and that it was wrong to associate them with gas chamber showers.

The museum’s official Facebook posted its response as a comment on a Times of Israel report to the effect that recent visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp were alarmed to see “showers” installed at the entrance of the site, where over a million Jews were killed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms.

“It is really hard for us to comment on some suggested historical references since the mist sprinkles [sic] do not look like showers and the fake showers installed by Germans inside some of the gas chambers were not used to deliver gas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,” the museum said in its comment. “Zyklon B was dropped inside the gas chambers in a completely different way — through holes in the ceiling or airtight drops in walls.”

The decision to install the sprinklers came in response to extreme heat afflicting southern Poland during the dog days of summer. Local temperatures recently soared to 37°C (98.6º F).

“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,” the Auschwitz Museum wrote. The sprinklers were placed at the entrance to the museum, where there’s no shade and where people wait for tickets, Auschwitz said. The decision to do so was made after several visitors fainted from recent extreme heat.

The director of the museum knows that it's somewhat inappropriate, but they commented that people dying because of heat strokes would be less preferable than that. Due to popularity the waiting time for entrance has been increasing, and the museum can't take that many people inside

The museum said it “had to do everything we could to minimize the risks connected with the heat and high temperatures,” emphasizing that “the safety and health of visitors are our priority during the period of extreme heat.”

While many refreshed themselves in the suspended pipes that sprayed a fine mist of cool water, Israeli visitors found the presence of the showers at Auschwitz offensive.

“Youth groups that were there didn’t really notice and treated it like fun, but for me it was déjà vu of the selection and extermination in the showers,” an Israeli visitor, Meir Bolka, told Channel 2 in a report published Monday. “People came by and had a shower.”

Bolka took his misgivings to the main office at the site and told an employee of his concerns over the arrangement.

“She said that it was the solution that they found to cool off because of the heat,” he recalled.

“She of course apologized that it made me feel that way, but beyond that, they didn’t do anything,” Bolka said.

One million European Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940-1945. More than 100,000 others, including non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters, also died there, according to the museum.

Some prisoners were forced to enter gas chambers disguised as shower rooms, where poisonous gas was inserted through holes in the ceiling, killing the occupants.

AFP contributed to this report.

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