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Analysis | ‘To our Jewish guests’: A Swiss hotel singles out Jews

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/16/2017 James McAuley
  © Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg News  

Outrage erupted Tuesday after a small Swiss hotel posted a sign asking “Jewish guests” to shower before using the swimming pool.

After a hotel guest posted a picture of the sign online, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human-rights organization, quickly demanded the closure of the Paradies Arosa, an Alpine establishment in the eastern Swiss city of Arosa, outside Davos.

Israeli government officials also condemned the hotel, describing the sign as “an anti-Semitic act of the worst and ugliest kind,” in the words of Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister. Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, Jacob Keidar, reportedly contacted the Paradies later on Tuesday and was told the signs had been taken down.

The backlash spread across social media.

The text of the sign shown in the photo was written in broken English and read: “To our Jewish guests, women, men and children, Please take a shower before you go swimming and although after swimming. If you break the rules, I’m forced to cloes the swimming pool for you.”

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A second sign was posted in the kitchen of the apartment-style hotel, telling “Jewish guests” they could use the freezer only between 10 and 11 a.m. and again between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. As the second sign concluded: “I hope you understand that our team does not like being disturbed all the time.”

For Shimon Samuels, the Wiesenthal Center's head of international relations, the language on the sign relied on age-old anti-Semitic caricatures, as well as Holocaust insults. As he told Agence France-Presse, “the reference to 'showers' can be construed as a patently vicious reference to the fake shower in the gas chambers.”

During the Holocaust, Jewish and other prisoners of Nazi concentration camps were often told that they needed to be disinfected at the “showers” after arriving by cattle car from elsewhere in Europe. The showers actually released poison gas — the Nazis' infamous instruments of mass murder.

Ruth Thomann, the hotel manager who signed both declarations, told Swiss media on Tuesday that she was not anti-Semitic. Speaking to Switzerland’s Blick newspaper, Thomann said that the Paradies was accommodating a large number of Jewish guests, some of whom — according to other guests — had not showered before using the pool. Other guests asked her to do something, Thomann said. Hence the sign.

In the past, the Paradies has been popular with orthodox Jewish guests, AFP reported, as its apartment-style setup has been accommodating to their needs, including the use of a freezer to store particular kosher foods.

Regarding the second sign, Thomann told Blick, she was trying to ensure the comfort of hotel staff, given that the freezer in question was located in the staff room. She wanted to make sure hotel employees could eat “lunch and dinner in peace.”

She said Tuesday: “I wrote something stupid naive on that poster,” acknowledging to Blick that perhaps it would have been better to address all hotel guests with the notice, and not just “Jewish guests.”

Still, the Wiesenthal Center did not accept the excuse, demanding that the Swiss government “close hotel of hate and penalize its management.”

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