The Polish government has joined Jewish groups in criticizing the opening of a disco in a building near the site of the Auschwitz death camp.
“Places of amusement should not be situated at areas marked with the suffering of the inmates of former death and concentration camps,” the government said.
In a statement issued last Friday, the government said it could not order the disco’s closure because it is privately owned. But the government strongly urged its owners to move it to another place.
“The government will do all it can to see this is done under the existing legal order,” the statement added. It did not say what this could involve, and a government spokesman declined to elaborate.
The disco, opened in August, is situated in the town of Oswiecim, about a mile from the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where the Nazis killed nearly 1.5 million people, most of them Jews.
Authorities in Oswiecim consented at the time to the disco, saying the building was outside a zone where activities that could be offensive to the memory of concentration camp victims are prohibited.
But the disco is situated in a former tannery where the Nazis employed slave laborers and where luggage and clothes brought to Auschwitz by its victims were sorted.
In the years since the end of World War II, the former tannery buildings have been used as industrial plants, wholesalers and a shoe shop.
Jewish groups and others have protested the establishment of the disco, which is located next door to a German-run International Youth Meeting Center.
The center hosts young people visiting the Auschwitz camp and also hosts seminars and meetings on Holocaust-related topics.
Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Righteous Gentile and survivor of Auschwitz who heads the International Auschwitz Council, issued a statement saying he was “astonished” that the disco was approved “without consulting historians, and against the wishes of the provincial governor.”
A group that has long monitored developments at Auschwitz, the Coalition for Jewish Concerns – Amcha, protested the disco during a demonstration earlier this month outside the Polish Consulate in New York.
Glenn Richter, an official with the group, said at the time, “The desecration of Jewish memory at Auschwitz is also the trampling of the memory of the many thousands of Polish citizens who died there, too. If you do not respect the martyrdom of others, you do not respect yourself.”
The staff at the Youth Meeting Center also protested the disco, saying the noise disturbs the center’s activities and guests.
“All around the world, there is a principle of not opening discos near hospitals, churches and places like this,” Meeting Center Director Leszek Szuster told the Warsaw Voice newspaper.
The disco’s owners took a wait-and-see attitude following the government statement.
A spokesman for the owners said the pressure was “unjustified” and noted that the disco was located well away from the Auschwitz camp and outside the protected zone.
“Oswiecim is a place where normal people live and want to have normal lives,” Zdzislaw Bieniek was quoted as saying.
However, he added that the owners may eventually bow to government pressure.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.