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Controversial Sprinklers Return to Auschwitz

— Shower-like misters are back at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, one year after similar cooling devices were removed after an outcry.

Installed to help visitors beat the heat at the site of the former Nazi death camp in Poland, the misters are again leading to complaints that they are reminiscent of the decoy “showers” used by the Nazis to murder Jews.

On Friday, Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, who heads the religious services department of the Gush Etzion region in the West Bank, posted on Facebook photos of the mist sprinklers, which were installed inside a parking lot of Auschwitz-Birkenau to cool visitors on Friday, when the temperature reached 88 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Showers at the entrance gate to the parking lot of Birkenau,” Ostroff wrote. “I don’t know about you but I feel uncomfortable entering a shower at the entrance of a death camp.”

During the Holocaust, victims of the Nazis’ industrialized murder machine, including millions of Jews, were told to strip before entering gas chambers that they believed were showers.

“Granted, they mean well (to provide relief from the maddening heat) but, come on, show a little sensitivity,” Ostroff wrote. “Or am I imagining, yet again, insensitivity to the Jewish story on the part of the museum’s management?”

In September last year, after similar objections, management from the Auschwitz museum told Israel’s Channel 10 that they had removed the misting sprinklers, but maintained the reason for their removal was the drop in temperatures, and not consideration for the feelings of visitors who found them disturbing.

“Among visitors there are many people who come from countries where such high temperatures as we have this summer in Poland do not occur,” the museum’s media department said on Facebook last year, in response to complaints. “Something had to be done, as we have noticed cases of fainting among people and other dangerous situations.”

Meir Schwartz, the owner of Olam Katan weekly in Israel for young observant Jews, wrote on Facebook on Friday that the objections raised by Ostroff and others were unfounded.

“The main thing is getting the maximum amount of number of people to visit Birkenau,” he wrote. “Not everything is immediately reminiscent of [the Holocaust]. Let life go on, remembering the past but looking to the future.”

But Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths Holocaust commemoration group, said that installing the sprinklers again after last year’s controversy was “unwise” of the museum.

“They could just put a water fountain,” he told JTA. “If there’s one place that people will be extra sensitive, it’s there, where visitors come to mourn their dead — and want to find fault and anger.”

The people running the museum “can’t lose sensitivity,” he added.

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