Polish museum returns controversial gas chamber installation

‘Game of Tag’ was initially removed amid protests by Jewish groups.

Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MOCAK)
Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK)
A controversial performance art installation featuring naked men and women playing tag within a gas chamber has been returned to a Polish modern art museum despite having been removed after protests by Jewish organization and Israeli diplomats, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The video entitled “Game of Tag,” which many found “controversial and offending is no longer displayed,” a spokeswoman for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow told the Post in June.
“Instead we are presenting information about the artwork including our curatorial commentary.”
“We were quite shocked and disturbed to hear that this exhibition, which includes one of the most offensive and disgusting videos relating to the crimes of the Holocaust, is being run in partnership with the Israeli Embassy,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter, told the Post at the time.
He complained regarding the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s sponsorship of the exhibit containing the work.
Jerusalem subsequently protested the inclusion of the video, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman later expressing “satisfaction at the removal of the offensive exhibit.”
On Wednesday, however, representatives of the center discovered that the work was again being presented at the museum, albeit behind a barrier.
“It is the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in a long time,” Zuroff told the Post on Thursday.
“They lied about it. It is just revolting and a total insult to the victims and anyone with any sense of morality or integrity. I told them if only the Jews taken into the gas chambers could have played tag and left alive.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, likewise expressed shock, telling the Post that he informed the museum that he planned on contacting every one of the exhibit’s sponsors unless the work is removed.
“There is simply no defense for it,” he said.
In response to a query from the Post, a spokeswoman for the museum said that the film is “presented in a discrete enclosure bearing the warning: ‘A controversial work, only for adults.’” “As regards the questions about Artur Zmijewski’s film, which, as we believe, is misinterpreted as insulting the memory of the victims, we decided to change the way it is presented. From June 12 to 17 (as the booth was under construction) the work was presented by means of a link to the website on which the film could be seen. Since June 17 the video captioned with the warning ‘This work might be considered controversial and is intended for adult viewers’ has been presented in a specially secluded area. The adults can decide for themselves whether they wish to see it or not,” she said.
In a letter sent to Yad Vashem – Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority obtained by the Post, museum director Dr.
Maria Anna Potocka asserted that “to read this film as an insult to the victims of the concentration camps we feel is to misinterpret it.”
She explained that the work was able to bypass the natural barriers to understanding that people put up when faced with horror and that “it is not possible – and perhaps best avoided – to portray realistically what went on inside gas chambers, whether physically or emotionally. Any such attempts end in fatal pathos.
An image that approximates the reality can only be sensed in our imagination. Artur Zmijewski’s film creates an opening for this intuition. Just substitute death for the ‘tag’ slapped on one player after another.”
The same video had been pulled from an Estonian art museum in February following widespread outrage.
“The topic is difficult and emotionally exhausting,” a spokeswoman for that museum said. “We have unintentionally insulted the local Jewish community by exhibiting these artworks. We are sorry.”