The shadow of the Holocaust may hang heavily over all of Germany, but nowhere is quite so tainted by the past as those places whose names are synonymous with the crimes of the Third Reich, such as Sachsenhausen or Bergen-Belsen. But the town with the darkest associations is arguably Dachau, location of the Nazi's first concentration camp. For many people, the name is practically a synonym for the Shoah.
Hence it comes as little surprise that plans by Dachau's mayor to twin his town with the Israeli settlement of Rosh Haayin have sparked controversy.
"We were worked to death there," Moshe Sanbar, a former governor of the Bank of Israel who is a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp, told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper. "Any agreement between Dachau and an Israeli town is too much for me." He added that he could not understand "how they could do something like this, because of the symbolism."
Holocaust survivor and historian Noah Kliger told the newspaper that the sister city plans were an act of "disturbing stupidity," saying that it was not possible to "erase the name and past of Dachau."
The office of Dachau Mayor Peter Bürgel confirmed earlier this week than the town planned a partnership with Rosh Haayin, a settlement near Tel Aviv. Bürgel had been searching for an Israeli sister city for almost two years before finding a willing partner in the form of Rosh Haayin Mayor Moshe Sinai.
Bürgel feels a sister city arrangement would be a gesture of reconciliation. "Dachau is a synonym for the crimes of the Nazis," Bürgel told Germany's Die Welt newspaper. "A sister city agreement between an Israeli town and Dachau would in a certain sense be an outstretched hand for the future."
Rosh Haayin Mayor Moshe Sinai defended the plans to partner his town with the German municipality. "Either we cooperate with Germany and honestly try to open a new page … or we have to take Germany and divided it into permitted and non-permitted areas," he told the Daily Mail. "The majority of people in Dachau weren't yet born when the Holocaust happened."
Sinai announced earlier this week his intention to set up a partnership agreement with Dachau. The 52-year-old mayor, whose parents are from Poland and Romania, visited Dachau and its former concentration camp in July and held discussions about a possible partnership between the towns.
Bürgel also plans to travel to Israel at the end of October to discuss an initial cooperation between the towns in the shape of an exchange program for young people. "Dachau wants to become a town of peace and a place for learning and remembering the past for the young people of the world," Bürgel told Die Welt. "That is our highest obligation because of our history."
Germany has promoted close diplomatic and cultural relations with Israel during the postwar period and support for the Jewish state is one of the cornerstones of German foreign policy. Many Israeli towns are already partnered with places in Germany, but the Dachau-Rosh Haayin agreement would be the first between an Israeli settlement and a German town that is so closely identified with the Holocaust.
Dachau, which is near Munich, was the site of the Nazi's first concentration camp, built in 1933. More than 43,000 people, mostly Jews, died there before the camp was liberated by American troops in April 1945.
dgs -- with wire reports