Holocaust exhibit in Estonia prefers laughing at history, triggers mass outrage

Inmates of Auschwitz concentration camp liberated by Red Army troops in January 1945. (RIA Novosti)
A museum in Tartu, Estonia, has sparked condemnation after a very unorthodox approach to Holocaust remembrance: by laughing at it. Among the exhibits is a scandalous video of children playing tag in a gas chamber, minutes before death.

RT has opted not to post any photos from the showing on ethical grounds.

There are a number of exhibits at ‘My Poland: Of Remembering and Forgetting’, which have aroused the anger of Estonia’s Jewish community. Another includes a mock-LA setting, with the giant word ‘Hollywood’ replaced by ‘Holocaust.’

The exhibition, set up to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps by the allies, is the first of its kind in Estonia, according to the local newspaper Express. It runs from February 7 to March 29.

There were upwards of 1,000 Estonian Jews who didn’t make it out of the country and faced death in the camps.

Rael Artel, who curates the “celebrated exhibition of modern art” at the Tartu Art Museum, appears to have a different mission entirely than the usual approach to the Holocaust as one of the most unspeakably dark chapters in human history. On the museum’s website, he explains how the museum considers it its mission to help artists see painful history through a different prism in order to be able to talk about it more comfortably.

“Humor and irony”, according to the coordinator of the exhibition, Julia Poluyanenkova, “is a way to overcome trauma. The intention here isn’t entirely to discuss the actual events, but to attempt to understand how the generations of us that remain deal with trauma, with events that have traumatized the human soul,” RIA Novosti quotes her as saying.

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Tere tulemast! Welcome! #tartukunstimuuseum #museum

Фото опубликовано Tartu Kunstimuuseum (@tartukunstimuuseum) Сен 25 2014 в 5:33 PDT

The statement on the site warns visitors that “the works displayed may have a disturbing effect” on them, but that did not shield it from harsh criticism from Estonians who disagreed with the museum's chosen methods.

“There’s nothing fun or ironic about the holocaust. It’s a tragedy, and this is inadequate and inappropriate,” the local Jewish community told journalists.

“This is disgusting – plain and simple disgusting! I hate to think how the relative and friends and acquaintances of people kissed in gas chambers would react to this outrage, this disgusting example of poor taste,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told RT.

It is his opinion that the people staging the exhibition “rethink their position.”

The shocking video of the children playing tag in a gas chamber has been banned in Germany.

Here are just some of the comments from visitors to the exhibition’s website:

"Is it art? No!It's a disgusting mental disease!" – Anna

"Utter moral degradation," - Vladius

Others were entirely sarcastic in tone, but likewise showed disbelief at the brazen idea. Some of the commenters insisted that freedom of expression is not an absolute, and that a line should be drawn where it begins to affect the freedom of others to be free of ridicule and derision.

One of the most scathing comments came from an Estonian Russian-speaking citizen, Lyuba Yoselevich, who on her Facebook profile had this to say:

“Imagine that it is your child’s blood being taken to then be put into a German soldier. Imagine you and your sister being raped, having your teeth knocked out, experimented on, then murdered, while your brother – who can still stand – is being forced to load their bodies, and the bodies of thousands of other women, men and children into the incinerator… now laugh! Go on! A lampshade made of human skin is incredibly funny, isn’t it!”