(photo credit: REUTERS)
A group of middle aged men and women romped naked through the gas chamber, their flabby bellies bouncing and jiggling awkwardly and setting off the contrast between pale flesh and gray wall.
A painting portrays a man and a woman driving in a car, the man pointing to a sign proclaiming “Holocaust” in the style of the Hollywood sign that is visible through the front windshield.
A group of smiling men, women and children, some bundled up in thick blankets, stand together behind a barbed wire fence wearing concentration camp uniforms. It is reminiscent of photographs of concentration camp inmates as they were liberated by the Red Army.
All of these works are part of an installation “My Poland: On Recalling and Forgetting” that is currently on display at the Tartu Art Museum in Tartu, Estonia – around 185 km.
southeast of the capital Tallinn.
According to the exhibit catalog, the works are intended to spark discussion of the reality of the Holocaust to “acknowledge the minorities in our society and to address growing extremism and xenophobia.”
The works, curator Rael Artel wrote, bring up questions regarding what kinds of rhetoric are “relevant” to use today and how people should speak about the camps.
“Do we have eyes and ears to learn about the suffering of others while our own past is so much closer to us? Or we are so occupied with our own national trauma that the suffering of the other does not concern us and allows us to push the issue of the Holocaust to subtle unconsciousness,” she asked.
Some of the works, according to the museum, use humor as a means of exploring such questions.
“I must admit that I, as well as other members of the community who saw the exhibit, were shocked and puzzled,” Jewish community leader Alla Jakobson said, according to Estonia’s Postimees (The Postman) website.
“Some of the exhibits ridicule the memory of the Holocaust,” he said, explaining that while freedom of speech means that the museum can showcase such works, it does not mean that it should.
The exhibit “mocks the victims of the Holocaust and insults their memory,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement.
“While the exhibition claims to attempt to deal with trauma through humor, the result is a sickening mockery of the mass murder of European Jewry and the important ongoing efforts to commemorate the victims’ memory and impart the lessons of the Holocaust,” said Dr.
Efraim Zuroff, the center’s chief Nazi-hunter.
“Thus, for example, one of the pieces in the exhibition is a film in which naked actors play tag in what is supposed to represent a gas chamber, a shameful parody of the fate of millions of Jews who were murdered in death camps. Such perverted humor has no place in any country, least of all one in which Holocaust crimes were perpetrated not only by Germans and Austrians, but by local Estonian Nazi collaborators as well.”
According to the museum, “The Game of Tag” video was filmed “in the gas chamber of a concentration camp.”
“The Game of Tag is an eloquent metaphor to illustrate the situation of individuals who were murdered in the gas chambers as well as the occurrence of the Holocaust as a whole. The deliberately organized and systematically conducted genocide in the death camps is a subject no one wants to touch or face – talking about it is unpleasant and repellent and it is easier not to. And if someone talks about it, it is just for a second, before pulling quickly away,” according to the exhibit catalog.
The media, which has been overwhelmingly critical, has “completely misunderstood the aim of the exhibition,” Artel told The Jerusalem Post.
“The museum is a memory institution and our job is to remember. Although some historical events are painful and shameful, they still exist – in 2015, 70 years will have passed since the end of the Second World War, the most brutal conflict in human history. The goal of the exhibition “My Poland. On Recalling and Forgetting” is to recall the 70 years passing from the end of Second World War and commemorate its victims.”
Not all of the works shown are controversial, however, with noted American Jewish cartoonist Art Spiegelman contributing a comic strip expressing the difficulties of inheriting the burden of the memory of the Holocaust.