‘Auschwitz on the Beach’ equates plight of refugees with death camp
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi.
(photo credit: MACBA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The German installation was canceled after outrage over the exhibit.
After a wave of criticism, including from the head of the Munich Jewish community, the “documenta 14” cultural center in the German city of Kassel canceled on Tuesday a performance exhibition likening the plight of refugees making their way to Europe by sea to Auschwitz.In a statement on the exhibit titled “Auschwitz on the Beach,” the documenta 14 center wrote that in “reaction to the number of complaints and accusations which we received over the last weeks, we have decided to cancel the planned performance from Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. We respect those who feel attacked by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s poem. We do not want to add pain to their sorrow.” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, “It is a very problematic tendency to compare all sorts of tragedies and plights of different people to Auschwitz. And very rarely are these comparisons worthy and accurate. Despite whatever sympathy we feel for the plight of refugees, their plight is not reminiscent of the plight of the Jews ordered to death camps and should not be compared.”Charlotte Knobloch, head of Munich’s Jewish community, said on Friday about the exhibit: “What is planned here is a grotesque production.” While it is important to highlight the fate of refugees and the partial failure of the EU and international community to address the current crisis, it is “unacceptable and intolerable” to use the interests of refugees to “relativize the Holocaust,” she said. The installation was slated to run in Kassel – with a population of nearly 198,000 in the state of Hesse – beginning on Thursday for three days.The documenta 14 center claims it is the world’s largest exhibitor of modern art, with 160 artists from across the globe currently represented there. According to the “Auschwitz on the Beach” production text, the author wrote, “The Europeans build on their territory concentration camps and pay their gauleiter [head of a district annexed by Nazi Germany] in Turkey, Libya and Egypt to carry out the dirty work along the coast of the Mediterranean where salt water has replaced Zyklon B.”Knobloch, who survived the Holocaust in hiding in Bavaria, termed the text “obscene” and “absolutely blind to history.”Berardi, who was born in Bologna in 1949, is an Italian Marxist. His poem, a soundtrack and pictures make up the “Auschwitz on the Beach” installation.Kassel Mayor Christian Geselle told the HNA news outlet on Monday the exhibit is “an outrageous provocation.”The city’s cultural official Boris Rhein told hessenschau.de news outlet the same day: “Freedom of art is highly valued,” but slammed comparisons between the Shoah and the refugee crisis, saying “the crimes of the Nazis were unique.”Martin Sehmisch, the head of an organization fighting Antisemitism (Informationsstelle Antisemitismus Kassel) in the city, called the announcement of the installation a “statement of political and moral bankruptcy from those in charge” at documenta 14.