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Fact-Checking The Story Of The Rabbi Arrested At Auschwitz Memorial

There is a report going around today about a Rabbi who was arrested at an Auschwitz Memorial for apparently just singing songs Jews sang as they marched to their deaths. Truth Revolt reports

On Friday, August 1st, local police arrested Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, the leader of a group of visiting Australian and South African students, for singing the same songs Jews sang as they marched to their deaths. Security officials at Auschwitz I twice requested that the group cease their singing. Auschwitz-Birkenau officials again requested they cease singing and subsequently summoned police.

Members of the group, including some with grandparents who had been incarcerated, some perishing, in Auschwitz, locked arms and began to sing songs. They sang lyrics like “may the people of Israel live” and “I believe in the coming of the Messiah.” At this point, guards approached Rabbi Ostroff and demanded that he make the group stop. Said Rabbi Ostroff, “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.”

When local police arrived, they seized Rabbi Ostroff and threatened him with 24-hour imprisonment or a 1,000 zl fine (roughly $320), while the group continued to sing. Rather than remain incarcerated in a Polish prison over the Sabbath, Rabbi Ostroff paid the fine and rejoined his group.

Just like anyone would react, when I first read this story, I was shocked. But the more I thought about it, something didn’t really smell right. With the international media very much focused on the rise of anti-Semitism it just didn’t make sense for the Memorial to do something like this simply for the optics of it. Also,  I know many people who visited Auschwitz, they sang and prayed and from reports I’ve received, the guards in general are very sympathetic and accommodating..

Nevertheless my knee-jerk reaction made me send out a tweet about the story. Within just a few minutes the Memorial sent me the following reply:

Checking the AuschwitzMuseum timeline they seem to be aggressively pushing back on the story.

The Museum claims the group behaved inappropriately, disrupted other visitors and it was only after many requests for the group to calm down were ignored that they had no choice but to call security and the man was just fined but not arrested. They  claim that none of those who ran the story contacted them and gave them the courtesy to clarify or hear what they had to say.

Following is their statement in full:

Below you will find our comment to the situation discribed in those articles: /

The Museum was not asked to give a comment by journalists who reported on the story.


The whole situation described was a problem of far too loud and inappropriate behaviour at the Memorial of the group. That become a problem for guides and other visitors who were on the site at that moment. Other visitors were disrupted even in such a sensitve place as the building of the crematorium at Auschwitz I. The group blocked it and did not let in any other visitors. Only after they security intevened, they reacted.

When the group was asked to quiet down on the site of former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, as they were not only singing very loud, but also running around the site, there was no response. Numerous requests of the security were left with no reaction. The leader of the group refused to give his name and produce documents. That is why the police was called. He was asked for documents. He told the police he had any. And the documents were found on him. The police gave him a ticket for disrupting public order and refusal to cooperate with the police. No one was arrested.

All situation that had nothing to do with the songs that were sung and the origin of the group. There are many groups visiting the site and singing in the way that is respectful to other people who visit the Memorial. There are different ways of commemoration but none of them can disrupt other people visit. Such bad behaviour arrouses many critical comments from other visitors. Yet, we should emphasise that great majority of visitors, including numerous groups coming from Israel, know very well what are right and appropriate ways of behaviour at the Memorial Site.

Thole situation is recorded and has been analysed. The reaction of the Museum Security was correct in this particual situation.

The situation in the world these days is very tense and emotions run high . With every little story reported that goes against the side we stand on, we instinctively jump to conclusions and run wild with our reactions.  But just as we expect the media to fact check reports that might make us look bad, we need to be responsible and fact check reports before we let our knee-jerk reactions hurt our own cause.


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