Sunday, 11 October 2009

Israelis divided over Dachau as sister city: Tel Aviv suburb Rosh Ha-Ayin's mayor is son of survivor

Sunday, October 11th 2009

By Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM - Of all the towns in the world, an Israeli mayor wants to take as a sister city a Bavarian burg whose name sends chills up the spines of Holocaust survivors: Dachau.

Even more astounding, Mayor Moshe Sinai of Rosh Ha-Ayin, a Tel Aviv suburb of 40,000, is the son of a Dachau concentration camp survivor.

Sinai says the German town shouldn't be shunned for its infamous past. "The majority of people in Dachau weren't yet born when the Holocaust happened," he said.

Besides, said Sinai, the Nazis "beat Jews and murdered Jews everywhere."

Still, Sinai's move has outraged many Israelis - especially the remaining survivors.

"I don't understand how they could do something like this, because of the symbolism," said Moshe Zanbar, a prominent Israeli politician who was a teenage Dachau inmate. "A special agreement between Dachau and an Israeli town is too much for me."

Noah Kliger, a historian and Holocaust survivor, said reaching out to receptive Germans is fine, but embracing Dachau is an "act of disturbing stupidity."

"Can a few apparent friends of Israel erase the name and the past of Dachau?" he asked.

In New York, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League took the opposite view, adding "I applaud the mayor."

"I think it's a positive sign of moving forward," Foxman said. "I want the new generation of kids in Dachau to know there is a special relationship with Israel. That doesn't mean you forget the past."

Located near Munich, Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp and a prototype for death camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka. About a third of the estimated 30,000 prisoners murdered there were Jews.

When U.S. forces liberated Dachau in 1945, they made local residents come see the emaciated prisoners and the gas chambers operating downwind of them.

"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," Zanbar said. "We were worked to death there."

Sinai said Dachau Mayor Peter Brgel suggested twinning their cities in an effort to bring young people from around the world to Dachau to study the Holocaust.

"When I visited Dachau and the mayor accompanied me to the concentration camp, I saw his face," Sinai said. "I saw how much he regrets the past and I saw his willingness to build a new future for the youth in his city."

Sinai said their aim is "to build new bridges for the future, to build a connection between the children of both towns, learn about the past and guarantee that maybe in the future we will have another world, and draw the lessons from the past."

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