German town in search of its Israeli twin
More than 70 years after Nazis built concentration camp near Dachau, mayor seeks redemption of bleak past by town twinning with Israel
BERLIN – The crimes of the Nazi regime have left their shameful mark on many European sites. One of these places is the Bavarian district town of Dachau in the southern part of Germany, bordering the first concentration camp built by the Nazis in 1933.
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The Dachau camp served as a prototype for the consequent concentration and extermination camps constructed under the Third Reich, in which millions of people were murdered. About one-fifth of the 200,000 prisoners sent to the Dachau concentration camp were eventually murdered.
The camp was populated by political prisoners, senior members of opposition parties, Reichstag ministers, artists, journalists, scholars, authors and composers – joined by thousands of Jews following Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass.)
Dachau was liberated by US forces a few days before the end of World War Two. Since then, the camp’s terrible past looms like a dark shadow over the nearby town which gave it its name.
But the town of Dachau with its 42,000 residents has been trying for some time now to improve its image around the world and clear its name to no longer be synonymous with the Nazi atrocities.
One of Dachau’s municipality members had once proposed changing the town’s name, but the idea was dismissed mainly because the initiator was also the representative of an extreme right-wing party, hence arousing suspicion of possibly looking to rewrite history.
Dachau Mayor Peter Bürgel has now come up with a new idea; Bürgel, a member of the conservative Christian Social Party, is asking to promote the public relations of his town by twin-towning it with a town or city in Israel.
In order to execute his idea, Bürgel has already begun networking with Israeli officials and even visited Israel last week, accompanied by the director of memorial sites in the Bavaria district, who is in charge of the Dachau Memorial Site.
Following his trip to Israel, Bürgel told the German weekly Velt am zontag: “It will surely be of Dachau’s interest to find a twin town in Israel, but one must prepare such ground with utmost sensitivity.” During his stay in Israel, Bürgel visited Yad Vashem and met with representatives from various Israeli organizations aiding Holocaust survivors.
One of the only cities in the world that has agreed so far to town-twining with Dachau is Klagenfurt, the capital of the federal state of Carinthia in Austria, ruled by right-wing Austrian extremism member Jörg Haider. With such prospects at hand, Dachau’s chances of clearing its reputation and finding its Israeli twin are questionable.