Rome Jewish Community Leader Trapped Inside Auschwitz, Interrogated by Police

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The main gate at the entrance Auschwitz in Poland.Credit: AFP

The head of Rome’s Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, was arrested in Poland and held overnight on Tuesday, after finding himself locked inside the Auschwitz death camp, where his grandparents were murdered. In a tweet he sent out in Italian, Pacifici called the arrest, which took place on  International Holocaust Remembrance Day, "a disgrace."

After attending a ceremony commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz and appearing live on “Matrix,” an Italian television talk show, Pacifici noticed that the camp’s gates had been closed, locking him inside together with Jewish community spokesman Fabio Perugia, “Matrix” host David Parenzo and two technicians. After an hour outside in the bitter cold — it was minus nine degrees Celsius — and no response to their calls for help and efforts to alert someone through the security cameras, they decided to attempt to  leave through the box-office, by climbing through an open window. That activated the alarm, bringing the museum guard and several Polish police officers.

Pacifici, Perugia, Parenzo and the technicians were arrested immediately and interrogated on the grounds of Auschwitz until 2:30 in the morning, then brought to the police station outside the camp where they were questioned for another three hours.

"They arrested us and treated us roughly as though we were criminals," community spokesman Perugia told Haaretz. "More and more police were summoned until there were some 12 officers who held us in the camp."

Pacifici tried to tell the Polish police officers what had happened, but the difficulties posed by the language barrier apparently prevented him and his colleagues from communicating effectively, leading him to tweet in Italian: “We are being held by the Polish police inside Auschwitz.... A disgrace.”

Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome's Jewish community.Credit: Haaretz

The five men were released only at 6 A.M. on Wednesday morning at the end of prolonged questioning with the assistance of an interpreter and following the intervention of the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Italian Embassy in Warsaw.

“I’m astounded,” Pacifici said from the airport where he and his colleagues awaited their flight back to Rome. “They interrogated us until six in the morning — two Jews who had been locked inside the Auschwitz camp, where I lost some of my family,” he told the Italian newspaper La Stampa. “My grandparents died here. It’s a shock. Our only crime was that we tried to get out through the window.”

The incident, which took place at the end of a broadcast of the Italian talk show “Matrix” on Channel 5 (which is owned by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi), was widely reported in the Italian media.

The program in which Pacifici participated was broadcast during the day of special programming that much of Italy’s media devoted to International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The special programming included discussions, interviews, and documentary and feature films about the Holocaust.

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