7th October 2009
By Matthew Kalman
An Israeli mayor has caused uproar with plans for his town to become the first to twin with a German town which housed a Nazi death camp.
Rosh Ha-Ayin, a middle-class dormitory town about 15 miles from Tel Aviv with a population of 40,000, has twinned with the infamous Bavarian town of Dachau, home of the first Nazi concentration camp about 12 miles from Munich.
More than 200,000 people from 30 countries were imprisoned at Dachau, a third of them Jews. Nearly 60,000 were murdered by the Nazis.
The Israeli town of Rosh Ha-Ayin which is to be twinned with the German town of Dachau
The camp was erected by the Nazis in March 1933 and carried the famous, cynical slogan “Arbeit Marcht Frei” above the entrance to its slave labour camp years before the same sign was placed above Auschwitz in Poland.
SS officers were trained there before being sent to larger death camps in Germany and Poland.
Many Israeli towns are twinned with similar-sized towns in Germany, and since the Jewish state was founded in 1948 the two countries have fostered close diplomatic and cultural ties in an effort to repair the damage done by the Nazi murder of six million Jews under Hitler.
But no Israeli town has ever twinned with those places that hosted the gas chambers and crematoria.
Moshe Zanbar, a prominent Israeli businessman and politician who survived Dachau as a slave labourer after being sent there aged 18, said he was 'appalled.'
'I don’t understand how they could do something like this, because of the symbolism,' he said.
'I have nothing against the new generation of Germans, and we must not hate all of them, but their parents who lived through that era saw us and knew what was happening.
'We were worked to death there. A special agreement between Dachau and an Israeli town is too much for me.'
Noah Kliger, a Holcoaust survivor and historian, described the twinning as an act of 'disturbing stupidity'.
'Can a few apparent friends of Israel erase the name and the past of Dachau?' he asked.
But Moshe Sinai, the mayor of Rosh Ha-Ayin and a former Israeli diplomat, said the twinning agreement honoured the memory of the Holocaust by bringing the next generation of Israeli and German youth together.
'My family are also Holocaust survivors and my family also suffered from the horrors of the Holocaust and many of them perished. But I also think about the future,' said Sinai.
He said it was ridiculous to discriminate between the people of different German cities because a concentration camp happened to be located there a half century ago.
'There was discrimination and the Kristallnacht in every town in Germany. They beat Jews and murdered Jews everywhere,' he said.
'Either we co-operate with Germany and honestly try to open a new page, and try to learn from the Holocaust to try and prevent more Holocausts, or we have to take Germany and divide it into permitted and non-permitted areas.'
'As local leaders we must think of the future of our children. If youth from Rosh Ha-Ayin learn together with youth from Dachau how to prevent future Holocausts, how to prevent future anti-Semitism, it should be welcomed.
'The majority of people in Dachau weren’t yet born when the Holocaust happened.
'They’ ve been told about the Holocaust and they want to learn from it. To co-operate with them in learning about the Holocaust is the best thing we can do,' he said.