Some visitors to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland this weekend were appalled to find that officials running the memorial had installed mist-showers — reminiscent of the sprinklers used in the notorious death camp's gas chambers — at the entrance to site's museum.
Museum officials said Monday that they had installed the mist showers over the weekend to help visitors cope with the heat, which had topped 90 degrees. But for some visitors, the devices brought up painful associations.
"As soon as I got off the bus I walked into the shower contraption," Meyer Bolka, an Israeli visiting the museum, told the Israeli news site Ynet.
"I was in shock. It was a punch to the gut," Bolka said. I walked up to the reception and asked the worker there about the showers, she said it was a hot day. I told her: 'With all due respect it reminds me of the gas chambers.' She told me she is very sorry."
Over 1.1 million Jews were executed at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust, and many were marched into gas chambers disguised as shower facilities. Now, the facility is a memorial to the victims of the Third Reich. Over 1 million people have reportedly visited the site so far in 2015, and it's a particularly popular destination for Israelis and Jews who lost relatives in the Holocaust.
The museum explained a statement on Monday that the showers were merely a public safety measure taken on one of the hottest days of the year.
"We must do everything possible to minimize the risks connected with the heat and high temperatures and take care of the safety of health of our visitors," museum officials said in a statement posted to Facebook. "The health of visitors is for us the priority during the time of these extreme heats and the sprinklers have been really helpful. The sprinklers are installed on the days of highest temperatures and removed with the temperature drops."
Poland is in the midst of a heat wave, and August has had some of the hottest days ever on record.
The Auschwitz Museum disputed the analogy between the showers and the gas chambers.
"It is really hard for us to comment on some suggested historical references since the mist sprinkles do not look like showers and the fake showers installed by Germans inside some of the gas chambers were not used to deliver gas into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," the museum's statement said. "Zyklon B [poison gas] was dropped inside the gas chambers in a completely different way — through holes in the ceiling or airtight drops in walls."