Israeli rabbi demanding apology after group prevented from singing at Auschwitz

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli rabbi is demanding an apology from the administration of the Auschwitz memorial after he was detained while leading a group of Jewish teenagers.

Rabbi Rafi Ostroff said he was threatened with arrest if his group of Australian and South African boys did not stop singing Jewish songs while visiting the site.

Ostroff, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, was detained Friday and ordered to submit to 24 hours in jail or pay a $350 fine. He said he paid the fine since it was two hours before Shabbat.

The rabbi was leading a delegation from the Bnei Akiva youth group on a pilgrimage to the concentration camp.

Ostroff wrote on Facebook that “the guards of the camp hounded us all the time, shouting at us not to sing” as they prayed during the visit.

Ostroff said that in a “secluded part” of the Birkenau camp, the “boys spontaneously started singing ‘Ani Maamin.’ This was the song that prisoners sang on the way to be murdered there. A guard drove after us with his car and demanded that they be silent. I told him that I don’t have control over this as they are singing from their hearts. He then threatened to arrest me and called the police.”

The rabbi called on the memorial site guards to “be considerate and compassionate to Jewish groups. We are not visiting there out of curiosity. It is a journey to the depths of our souls.”

The memorial’s management told NRG, the website of the Maariv daily newspaper, that the behavior of the group was “disruptive” and “unacceptable.”

“The noise bothered instructors and other visitors who were there at the time. They also interfered with other visitors in sensitive places such as the crematorium building,” the camp administration said in a statement, according to NRG.

The management stressed that the incident was not related to the “Israeli origin” of the rabbi.

“There are different ways to remember,” its statement said, “but do not let that disturb others during their visit there.”