Aug. 9, 2004 18:36 | Updated Aug. 11, 2004 12:32
Jewish students attacked at Auschwitz
By JENNY HAZAN
Tamar Schuri, a member of the group of Israeli and Jewish students who were attacked while visiting the death camps in Auschwitz earlier this week said that during and after the attack no one came to help the victims, not even the guides employed by the camp, Army Radio reported Wednesday.
"The main accusations were that the place does not only belong to Jews, and that we use it as a publicity tool for pro-Israeli propoganda,," Schori said. "There was a guide with us that worked there, and she just backed off. We didn't have anyone to turn to," she added.
While on a tour of the museum at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland on Sunday, a group of around 50 Jewish university students from Israel, the U.S. and Poland were verbally attacked by a three-member gang of French male tourists.
Evidently incited by the presence of an Israeli flag wrapped around the shoulders Schuri, the first assailant ran at the group while its members were being guided through a model gas chamber and crematoria and began swearing and hurling anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli insults.
"He told us to go back to Israel and said that we were stupid and should be ashamed to walk around with an Israeli flag," testifies Maya Ober, a 21-year-old Polish student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan and member of the Polish Union of Jewish Students (PUSZ), which organized the 16-day summer learning program along with the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS).
After the initial altercation, a second assailant grabbed Ober by the arm. "One of the guys held me by the arm and wouldn't let go," says Ober, who lost several members of her family at Auschwitz. "I was afraid. I couldn't move and I didn't know what he was going to do.
"I was shocked. Although I have met anti-Semitism many times, I never expected to meet it at Auschwitz, where so many of my relatives were killed," she says she spoke to the assailants in French and that in addition to being "brutish and vulgar," their sentiments "made absolutely no sense."
"Violence was narrowly averted," adds Laurence Weinbaum, Director of Research at the World Jewish
Congress and resident scholar for the group, who says the Polish police were not notified of the incident because the assailants did not commit an actual crime.
"But, if the two sides hadn't been separated, it would have come to blows."
Weinbaum, who has been to Poland more than 30 times on educational tours, says he never before saw anything like what happened, happen. "It was simply shocking," he says. "In some way, I felt that these men were satisfied to visit Auschwitz. This was another reminder that in Western Europe there is sympathy for dead Jews; it's just the live ones that they cannot tolerate."
"This event shocked me," adds 24-year-old tour participant Yigael Ben-Natan from Zichron Yaacov, a recent graduate from the University of Haifa. "But, it bought into focus a small part of what it's like to be a Jew in the Diaspora today and a little bit about what it was like to be a Jew in the Diaspora during the Holocaust.
"Auschwitz is a place where everyone who visits shows a certain degree of respect," he says. "These people's total disregard for the feelings of the people who come here, especially the Jews who come here to mourn, is horrible. But, I suppose some people don't come to mourn; some people come for completely different reason, which we cannot completely comprehend."
The students on the tour, which came as part of a year-long educational project funded by the Claims Conference for Lost Jewish Property and the JDC, gathered together in Poland to learn about the history of its Jewish community, to participate in the revival of the country's contemporary Jewish community by strengthening its ties to Israel and the American Diaspora and to work to restore the Jewish cemetery near Krakow, Czchow, which unlike the neighboring Christian cemetery, hasn't been properly maintained since the Holocaust.
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"These students went out there to learn what is happening and unfortunately, they learned a more practical lesson than we would have liked," says Peleg Reshef, Chairperson for WUJS. "The fact that someone could say all of the things that these men said at the Holocaust museum at Auschwitz, is unthinkable.
"But, we are trying to teach our students to learn from other cultures and to be proud of who they are and I am proud to say that they stood up and said that they were proud to be Jewish, that they were proud to be Israeli and that they were proud to bear our national flag."