‘Holocaust dance’ by Russian Olympic ice skating star triggers avalanche of criticism

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Russian Olympic champion Tatyana Navka stirred controversy online after appearing on an ice skating TV show in a Nazi death camp prisoner’s uniform, in a performance that she says was supposed to celebrate human dignity and spirit amid the horrors of Holocaust.

Former Olympic figure skating champion Navka and actor Andrey Burkovsky wore stylized striped concentration camp uniforms with yellow Stars of David during their performance on Channel 1’s “Ice Age” show.

In putting together the performance, Navka says she had the most benign intentions in mind. In an Instagram post about the dance, the former Olympic champion said her skating with her partner was based on Roberto Benigni's 1997 movie – Life is Beautiful.

READ MORE: ‘Slap in face of Holocaust survivors’: World Jewish body slams Polish officials over WWII remarks

The protagonist in the film is a Jewish shop owner who employs his imagination to shield his son from the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp in which both characters end up during World War II. Throughout the movie the father uses a perfect mixture of will, humor, and imagination to inspire his young boy to imagine that the Holocaust is a game and that the grand prize for winning is a tank.

“You must show this movie to your children,” Navka said in her post. “Our children need to know and remember that terrible time, which I hope, God willing, they will never know.”

But instead of focusing on the delicate matter of the skating performance that centered on life's triumph over death, critics lashed out at the pair who smiled as they skated wearing concentration camp uniforms.

Critics on social media, as well as some western media outlets, neglected Navka’s skating talent and instead chose to focus on the fact that she recently married Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Vladimir Putin.

That alleged political tie seemed to have overburdened the true talent shown on ice to the song “Beautiful That Way”, which was featured in the Italian-language Oscar-winning film. Critics seemed to have forgotten that the forty-one-year-old Navka was 2006 Olympic champion and a two-time world champion (2004–05).

Twitter exploded with negative reactions  insisting on an apology for the performance. Some demanded a response from the Kremlin directly.

One South African user urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand an apology from the Russian president.

Others wondered if Peskov and Navka found the Holocaust “funny.”

Navka, as with her original Instagram post, explained her true intentions. She reiterated that skating was performed to remember the victims of the Holocaust. 

“This isn’t just a TV show. This is theater. And such issues must be raised. People must remember about it,” Navka told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. 

“And if the youths will now show interest and try to learn about the Holocaust, concentration camps and ‘The Life is Beautiful’ movie, it would mean that we’ve hit the mark [with our performance],” she added.

Navka’s partner Burkovsky said that he was surprised by the negative reception of their routine by the internet.

“I don’t understand such a reaction. Of course, people are different and everybody has own opinion. But the negative hype around our performance is unjustified,” he said.

Navka told Life.ru news outlet that she was surprised by the reaction of people on social media.

Perhaps people haven’t watched this wonderful film, which won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and received three Oscars. Our performance was inspired by this movie, ‘Life is Beautiful’,” she said.

According to the Olympic champion, Channel 1’s ‘Ice Age’ show has repeatedly raised 0issues of WWII and Navka has already performed dressed as a concentration camp prisoner before.

“This is our performance – it hasn’t caused any reactions in the world before. I hope that many people simply have not watched the movie, and when they do it, they will look at our lovely performance with a fresh look,” Navka added as cited by Life.ru.

Dmitry Peskov later said that he is proud of his wife.

“I don’t think this an issue that somehow concerns the Kremlin. So as the Kremlin spokesperson I have limited ability to comment on it. I am proud of my wife – that’s all I can say,” he added.

Offline, the performance has been welcomed by many, including members of the Russian Jewish community. The president of the Holocaust Foundation, Alla Gerber, said that the mass killings of Jews during World War II is such “a painful issue” that there are no clear criteria on how to address it.

“The Holocaust wasn’t only about extermination. It also a colossal resistance of human spirit and human dignity…. Even in the most bizarre conditions the people continued living till their last moment – they wrote, they sang, they loved,” she told Govorit Moskva radio. 

“If in that ice dance, dedicated to Holocaust, all that was present then I see nothing wrong about it,” Gerber stressed.

The Holocaust, known as the Shoah in Hebrew, was a genocide against the Jewish people. It claimed six million lives, which represented about two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe. The systematic killings took place throughout Nazi Germany, German-occupied territories and territories held by allies of Nazi Germany.