Irony and the Holocaust is a combination usually best avoided. If one needed any proof, it came from Estonia on Monday.

Jewish groups expressed outrage after a newspaper in Estonia published a fake ad that they said disrespected victims of the Holocaust.

The Eesti Ekspress, a popular daily in the Baltic nation, ran a piece in its satirical pages that used notorious war criminal Dr.

Josef Mengele and the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald to sell weight-loss pills.

“One, two, three: Dr. Mengele’s diet pills work miracles on you,” it read. “There were no fatties in Buchenwald.”

Local members of the small Jewish community lambasted the publication saying it was an example of the country’s “major problems with moral and ethical values.”

Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it was a “sick attempt at humor.”

“It is incomprehensible that a leading and ostensibly respectable news weekly in a country which is a member in good standing in the European Union will publish such a perverted attempt at humor at the expense of the Nazis’ millions of victims,” he said.

But Sulev Vedler, the deputy editor of Eesti Ekspress, said the piece was ironic. Vedler told the The Jerusalem Post in an email that the ad was meant to spoof a real one run by the Estonian national gas company recently.

In the controversial ad that was pulled shortly after it first appeared late last month, the Estonian GasTerm Eesti company used a photo of the infamous gate at the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp, which read “Arbeit match frei” (Work makes you free).

“The ridicule was not at the expense of any nation or anyone who has suffered in concentration camps, but at the expense of the Estonian company in question,” said Vedler.

He apologized for any offense the attempt at satire might have caused, but Zuroff dismissed Vedler’s explanation of a simple misunderstanding saying the flap tied into the larger battle over how the Holocaust is remembered in the region.

The Jewish activist – who for years has been fighting what he says are attempts by authorities in the Baltics to cover up local complicity in the mass murder of Jews during World War II – said Eesti Ekspress has a history of animosity towards Jews.

As proof, he sent a cartoon it ran on August 21, 2001, that portrayed himself as the devil incarnate, complete with horns and a pitchfork, drinking the blood of suspected war criminal Harry Mannil out of a cup handed to him by the Estonian prime minister at the time.

“They were very negative on the war crimes issue to the point that they portrayed me, a person that tried to facilitate the prosecution as a devil,” Zuroff said.

Mannil was investigated by Estonia for alleged war crimes against Jews during World War II when he was a member of the local police, but never charged. He died in 2010 in Costa Rica.

Vedler on Monday said he had never seen the cartoon Zuroff complained about before and that he was unaware of its context or background or when it appeared.

“But I know,” he added, “that we are not against Jewish people. We don’t hate Jews.”

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