It was intended to provide relief from the extreme summer heat in Poland. But instead, a suspended hose that sprays visitors to Auschwitz with a fine mist is reminding some of the concentration camp’s grim history.
This week, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum issued a statement defending the misting stations after criticism that they were reminiscent of how Jews were forced into chambers made to look like showers and then gassed by the Nazis during World War II.
Reaction ranged on social media sites, with some saying the overhead sprinklers were a terrible reminder of what Jews endured and others laughing at or shrugging off the comparison.
The Israeli news site Ynet published a photograph of the sprays erected near an information booth close to one of the site’s brick building. It quoted an Israeli visitor, Meir Bolka, as saying: "When we got off the bus I saw the sprinklers. I was in shock. I felt my stomach turn over."
A popular Israeli Channel 10 TV program, "Hatzinor," posted a photo on Sunday on its Facebook page of youths enjoying the mist showers, saying it had been sent in by Israeli visitors "who did not like how it looked," and inviting reactions.
By Tuesday, the post had more than 1,000 comments. Some Israelis expressed surprise at what they called a shocking lack of sensitivity, but many comments were more wry than outraged.
"What’s next? Ovens in winter?" Dror Azarzar wrote.
Gaby Katz wrote, "There are trains in Poland too."
More than 1 million people visited the Auschwitz memorial in the first seven months of this year, more than in any previous similar period.
The memorial on Tuesday noted that Sept. 1 was the anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, and that about nine months later the first Polish political prisoners were transported to the newly created camp.
On Monday it issued a statement on its Facebook page that addressed the misting stations, saying they were a temporary measure installed during an extreme heat wave for the benefit of people standing in line waiting to get into the memorial.
"This is a place in the open sun and without any possibility of hiding in the shade where sometimes you need to stand for quite a long time since the memorial is visited by thousands of people every day," the statement said. "The sprinklers are installed on the days of highest temperatures and removed when the temperature drops."
Over the years, those charged with passing along the legacy of the camp have worked to balance the movement of large numbers of visitors with efforts to preserve its authenticity, and some of those efforts have shifted from memorializing to teaching.
The memorial’s statement mentioned that some visitors came from countries that did not have similar extreme summer temperatures, and noted that some had fainted from the heat.
"And one more thing," the statement said. "It is really hard for us to comment on some suggested historical references since the mist sprinkles do not look like showers and the fake showers installed by Germans inside some of the gas chambers were not used to deliver gas into them. Zyklon B was dropped inside the gas chambers in a completely different way — through holes in the ceiling or airtight drops in walls."
A number of readers in the United States also deflected suggestions that there was any similarity. Some noted that the misting systems were like those used at public parks. In Israel, similar systems can be found across footpaths, bike trails and at restaurants.
"If you have ever been to Auschwitz, you will know that the mist caused by these sprinklers has no likeness to the method used by the Nazis," David Clarkson wrote.
Another man said he had lost half of his direct relatives at Auschwitz. "A mist shower installed 70 some odd years later is not going to change that one way or another," he wrote. "The critics of the misting showers should bear in mind where the true evil lies. Never Again."