Artwork showing naked people playing tag in Nazi gas chamber condemned by Jewish groups

'It is just revolting and a total insult to the victims and anyone with any sense of morality or integrity'

Chris Baynes
Thursday 30 November 2017 17:57
The film was recorded in a gas chamber in Stutthof in 1999
The film was recorded in a gas chamber in Stutthof in 1999

Holocaust survivors have voiced anger over a video artwork that showed naked people playing a game of tag in a Nazi gas chamber.

Several Jewish organisations have written jointly to Poland's president Andrzej Duda, demanding to know if authorities gave permission for the footage to be filmed at the Stutthof concentration camp, where 65,000 people were murdered during World War Two.

Artur Żmijewski's film, entitled Game of Tag, was displayed at Krakow's Museum of Contemporary Art in 2015 as part of an exhibition about Auschwitz.

No details about where it was recorded were divulged at the time, but the work was denounced as "revolting and a total insult to the victims" by some Jewish leaders.

Researchers have now discovered film's location was Stutthof, about 20 miles east of Gdańsk, the Times of Israel reported.

The Organisation of Holocaust Survivors in Israel and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish research and human rights group, are among those demanding answers from the Polish government and the management at the concentration camp site, which now houses a museum.

Their letter to President Andrzej Duda asked whether artists did “obtain permission from the Stutthof administrators to make this video, what rules exist for proper conduct at the site, how these are enforced”.

The film was displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow

It notes that "no comment or word of critique was heard from Polish official sources regarding the video, neither from the Prime Minister’s office, nor from any official or government representative".

The video was filmed in 1999 and displayed in 2015 in an exhibition titled “Poland – Israel – Germany. The experience of Auschwitz”, which examined the Nazi death camp's impact on public discourse.

The exhibition was endorsed and sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Poland. But after an outcry from Jewish groups, the embassy called for the video be removed.

“It is the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in a long time,” Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Centre’s chief Nazi hunter, said in 2015. “It is just revolting and a total insult to the victims and anyone with any sense of morality or integrity.”

The museum withdrew the work in response to criticism but later reinstated it, defending freedom of artistic expression.

“To read this film as an insult to the victims of the concentration camps, we feel is to misinterpret it," said the museum's director Maria Anna Potocka.

The film is still hosted on the museum's website, with a warning: "This page contains content intended for adults only."

A description states: "The film Berek (Game of Tag) was made in 1999. In it a group of people play a kid’s game. They are naked, they run around, they laugh a lot. But they are also very serious. They know where they are — in the gas chamber of a former Nazi extermination camp."

The Independent has contacted the Polish Embassy in London for comment, but none had arrived at the time of publication.

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