PRAGUE, Dec. 28 (JTA) — A Polish Jewish leader is criticizing a Polish bus company’s recent advertisement for round-trip tickets to Auschwitz, with barbed wire in the ad’s background. The advertisement is “outrageous and beyond tasteless,” said Piotr Kadlcik, chairman of Poland’s Union of Religious Jewish Communities. Kadlcik was reacting to an article published Wednesday in the Krakow edition of Poland’s leading daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, which reported that the PKS Malopolska bus firm recently had put up posters in hotels, travel agencies and hostels around Krakow that read, in English, “Auschwitz? With a return ticket? From the city center? Yes it’s possible.” The roughly $24 offer, which includes a tour guide for the former death camp, is superimposed against a fuzzy photograph of a camp building with barbed wire in sharp focus. More promotional information is written across the photograph, including departure times and reservation contacts. Kadlcik told JTA he was writing a letter of protest to the company. “I don’t think they intentionally meant to offend people, but I think they’re just being stupid,” he said. “I found it highly inappropriate, not just for the Jewish victims in Auschwitz but also for all the people who have perished in this camp. There is an unfortunate tendency in marketing to do shocking things, but this is way, way beyond what’s acceptable.” Dorota Jelienska, granddaughter of an Auschwitz survivor, said she found the ad “simply unbelievable. You cannot say this is a Jewish issue because until about 10 years ago Poles learned mostly about non-Jews who died in Auschwitz. So anyone who would make this ad is just crazy. And if I was an Israeli and saw this ad, well, I would walk to Auschwitz before getting on that bus.” PKS Malopolska’s president, Tomasz Stanek, says he doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. “I really did not mean to hurt anyone, and if the ‘return-ticket’ line is offensive to people, I will just change it,” he told JTA. PKS Malopolska has distributed 30,000 leaflets of the ad and 20 wall-size posters. Stanek said that before distributing his advertisement he had consulted several people familiar with Jewish culture and an expert at the Auschwitz Jewish Center, a U.S.-funded educational foundation in the town of Osweciem, where the former camp is located. “She saw nothing wrong with the ad,” he said. The newspaper cites the center’s expert as saying that she hadn’t examined the ad carefully. What the newspaper does not report is that the expert in fact is a university student, an intern who was being asked for her personal view, not for the opinion of the center, explained the center’s director, Tomasz Kuncewicz. “She was really misused,” he told JTA. “As for the ad, it’s in obvious bad taste. I saw it just before Chanukah began and thought the use of ‘return’ was highly inappropriate. I hope it goes away.” He speculated that increased competition among tour companies for a share of the Krakow-Auschwitz route might have led to the “blatant commercialization of a very uncommercial topic.” Stanek, however, said current round-trip public transportation for independent travelers to Auschwitz is insufficient. “About 350 people from many countries have so far used our service, and nobody told us that the advertising appeal is out of line,” he said. He also noted that his is the only firm in Krakow offering programs on Oswiecim’s pre-war Jewish history. “I saw communication problems between Krakow and Oswiecim and I was trying to make it more available, for everyone who feels the spiritual need to see the concentration camp,” he said. “It wasn’t my intention to offend somebody’s feelings. If I did I am really, really sorry.”
Dinah Spritzer is JTA's correspondent in Prague. She has been covering the former Eastern European bloc since 1990 and currently serves as the news editor of The Prague Post. The former Europe editor for Travel Weekly, she also contributes to several other publications, including The Independent on Sunday, Conde Nast Traveler and several guidebooks on the Czech Republic.