02:56 - Source: CNN
'One minute like an entire day': Remembering Auschwitz

Story highlights

Rome's Jewish community spokesman says they were treated like criminals at Auschwitz

He says they were interrogated for hours by security guards and police after being locked in

Auschwitz spokesman says the group broke into a building and then refused to cooperate

Rome CNN  — 

A row has erupted over allegations by representatives of Rome’s Jewish community that they were locked into the former Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and treated “like real criminals” after filming a TV interview.

Rome’s Jewish community spokesman Fabio Perugia said on Twitter that he and the head of Rome’s Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, had been filming with a TV crew from Italy’s Canale 5 following a ceremony Tuesday to mark 70 years since the camp’s liberation.

The crew had finished their work at 11 p.m., and the group tried to leave, he said. But group members found they were locked in the camp in subzero temperatures with no security guards in sight.

“Riccardo Pacifici then pushed through a window that was in the ticket sales building, and the window opened up,” Perugia said.

“He entered and then opened the door for us. At that point, the alarm went off. And we thought, ‘Good, finally someone from security will come to let us out.’ “

However, at this point, their night got worse, Perugia said.

Interrogation claim

“The security guard arrived indeed, but instead of letting us go, they kept us there. For hours, and hours and hours. They started to interrogate us and they treated us like real criminals,” he said.

Perugia said the guards were inflexible and insisted on following procedure. Eventually, they took the party to the Auschwitz police station, he said, where they were kept until 5:30 a.m. and questioned one by one.

“They don’t know how to distinguish between the real criminals and those who were there simply to do an interview and honor the Day of Memory,” he said.

The incident ended with the party writing down their version of events, Perugia said, adding that they had asked for the matter to be looked into through Italian diplomatic channels.

Auschwitz spokesman: They didn’t cooperate

A spokesman for the Auschwitz museum gave CNN a different account of the evening’s events, however.

Pawel Sawicki said the Italian TV crew had permission to film at the site until 11.30 p.m., when they had agreed that they would exit and security guards would come to the gate to let them out.

He said CCTV footage shows they finished early and went to the gate a few minutes past 11 p.m. Rather than waiting for the security guards to come at the agreed time, one of them broke into the visitor center and let others in, too, he said.

This triggered an alarm, so the security guards came to the building, which houses cash registers and an ATM.

According to protocol, they asked the men to show ID, but they refused to do so, Sawicki said. The police had to be called since they can only demand that people show ID documents, he said.

The police then arrived and took over the matter, he said.

Auschwitz ‘must be protected’

“While being on the site, we have to follow the rules,” Sawicki said. “So until the unfortunate incident, everything was OK because they had our permission, they cooperated with our security and they had the time that they declared they would be leaving.”

He said the group could also have gone to another exit 150 meters (nearly 500 feet) away where the security guards were based if they wanted to leave earlier – and could then have been let out of that gate.

“However, they decided to act outside the regulations and triggered the security alarm and triggered the whole reaction and then refused to cooperate.”

Auschwitz is a “priceless heritage place,” he said. “It must be protected and there must be security.”

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported from London and Hada Messia from Rome.