Shooting range near Nazi camp is a touchy tourist site

PRAGUE (JTA) — Czech officials and Jewish leaders are trying to shut down a German entrepreneur's Web site that offers cheap trips to a shooting range next to a Nazi-era transit camp.

Czech-born hotel owner Rudolf Potucek has been using the Internet to advertise trips from his hotel in the Czech town of Litomerice to the range, located on the outskirts of the Terezin transit camp — also known by the German name Theresienstadt — where thousands of victims were held before being transported to Nazi death camps.

The advertisement, complete with images of the former Jewish ghetto near the camp, has incensed groups in the Czech Republic and Germany.

"This is a tasteless Web site, particularly because it gives the impression that they are inviting Germans to come and shoot within Terezin itself," said Dagmar Lieblova, chairwoman of the Terezin Initiative, an international association of former ghetto and concentration camp prisoners. "The shooting range is not in Terezin, but next to it."

Potucek was not available for comment, despite repeated calls to his hotel in Litomerice.

The German-based Internet site originally featured a picture of the ramparts of the Small Fortress at Terezin, where prisoners were held during World War II.

It was removed after protests from local Jewish representatives and Terezin's City Hall, but it was replaced by a picture of a Terezin-based memorial to children who died during the war in the adjacent Jewish ghetto.

"The new photograph is no better than the first," said Lieblova, who first heard of the Web site from a Terezin support group based in Germany that asked German authorities to find out whether neo-Nazis were behind the advertisement.

They were told there was no connection.

Potucek remains under pressure on various fronts. The Terezin Memorial has consulted lawyers with a view to suing him.

"We have been against this Web site since we first heard of it," said the director of the Terezin Memorial, Jan Munk. Munk said he has no objection to the shooting range, which has been operating for 40 years.

Potucek also has come under fire from the local City Hall, which has been trying to close the shooting range for nine years because of its proximity to Terezin.

"I think the Web site is very insensitive and shocking, and it insults the victims of Terezin," said Terezin Mayor Ruzena Cechova, who said Potucek had not responded to appeals to shut down the site.

According to Czech press reports, the shooting range owners have also asked Potucek to remove his ad from the Internet.

Some believe even stronger action may be required.

Sylvie Wittmann, a Jewish tour guide specialist who has organized trips to Terezin for 15 years, said that if necessary she would support a demonstration at the shooting range, with protesters dressed in Terezin prison clothes.

"I don't object to the shooting range because the area around Terezin has historically been used as an army base," she said.

But Potucek "seems to be offering trips to the shooting range exclusively for Germans in a semi-hidden kind of way," she added. "Something must be done, because it is like saying: 'Welcome, neo-Nazis, to Terezin.'"