BERLIN (Reuters) - A Nazi concentration camp memorial in Germany has been criticized on both sides of the Atlantic for introducing charges for some visitors.
The former Sachsenhausen camp near Berlin began charging commercial tour groups a fee of 1 euro ($1.40) per person in June. It has never charged before and critics say that to do so goes against its role as a memorial of persecution.
“Only commercial tour groups are charged,” Sachsenhausen memorial site head Guenter Morsch told Reuters on Wednesday, adding that the site plans to invest the levy in education and further training for its guides.
Holocaust sites in Germany like Sachsenhausen are state-funded. Free admission has long been considered a public duty, a sentiment echoed by the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann.
“A concentration camp memorial should not impose barriers on visitors,” Graumann told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendents, said he was disappointed about the levy.
“Charging any fees on visitors to the site undermines the present-day German consensus that no barriers should exist for the public to learn and reflect on the meaning and history of these places of persecution,” he said in a statement.
Turning a profit or deterring people from visiting the camp is not the aim of the new policy, Morsch said. The Sachsenhausen foundation board, which includes survivors and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, approved the levy, he added.
“We’re targeting private tour groups because they’re making a business out of it. Survivors and their families are exempt from the fee,” he said.
Among many local tour group operators, Insider Tour Berlin charges 15 euros per person for a visit to the camp some 40 km (25 miles) north of Berlin and uses its own tour guides rather than those offered by the Sachsenhausen foundation.
The tour operator said it did not plan to pass the extra 1 euro fee on to customers.
Sachsenhausen, built in 1936, was one of Nazi Germany’s first concentration camps. More than 200,000 people were interned there, mostly political prisoners and those deemed racially inferior.
It served as a Soviet prisoner of war camp from 1945-50.
Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by John Stonestreet and Paul Casciato