Art exhibit of woman who ‘stole objects from Auschwitz’ to go ahead

Granddaughter of Holocaust survivors Rotem Bides claims she took contested items from nearby rather than from museum itself

Tuesday 25 July 2017 13:54 BST
A spokesperson from Auschwitz-Birkenau said at least one artefact was identifiable as from the site
A spokesperson from Auschwitz-Birkenau said at least one artefact was identifiable as from the site (Reuters)

A controversial project from an art student in Israel is to go ahead despite claims that objects displayed in it were stolen from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

27-year-old Rotem Bides was previously facing criminal charges in Poland for the theft of several items allegedly taken the site over the course of six visits, including a screw, spoon, pieces of glass and a sign warning visitors not to remove objects.

“This is a painful and scandalous act. This is a protected site and proof of the tragedy of the Holocaust that needs to be preserved for future generations,” a museum spokesperson said last week.

The objects - along with a vial of her own blood and other items from Poland such as a rabbit’s leg and water from the river the ashes of victims of the Nazi atrocity were thrown into - form the final exhibit of Ms Bides’ master’s degree at Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba.

In an interview with Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published last week the student appeared to defend her actions on the grounds of freedom of artistic expression - but has since clarified that everything displayed in her work was taken from outside the death camp, rather than stolen from it.

“The student said her words were taken out of context by the journalists who interviewed her and that they put words in her mouth,” the college said in a statement, adding that nothing had been stolen and Ms Bides’ work would be displayed as planned from 26 July.

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A spokesperson from Auschwitz-Birkenau, however, told the Washington Post that while from photographs it could not be fully determined whether any items were indeed taken from their custody, at least one artefact was identifiable as from the site.

Ms Bides - all four of whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors - told Yedioth Ahronoth that she was concerned that “after all the survivors are gone, the Holocaust will turn into a myth, something that cannot be perceived”.

The project was something she felt she had to do, she said.

“Millions of people were murdered based on the moral laws of a certain country, under a certain regime. And if these are the laws, I can go there and act according to my own laws.”

The statement I’m making here is that laws are determined by humans, and that morality is something that changes from time to time and from culture to culture.”

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