An Estonian magazine insisted Monday the uproar over a mock ad it published as a joke, showing prisoners at a Nazi death camp, is an issue of “cultural differences.”
Sulev Vedler, deputy editor of the Eest Ekspress magazine, told the AFP news agency “it was published on our jokes page. I think people living in other cultural environments than ours just don't understand it like we do.”
He claimed the “Doctor Mengele weight-loss pill” ad was a swipe at national gas firm GasTerm Eesti, which last month posted a photo of the Auschwitz death camp's notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate on its website.
The gas firm rapidly pulled the photo and immediately apologized for what it claimed was a misplaced attempt to contrast lethal gas, used to kill Jews at Auschwitz, with the safe home-heating variety.
"For us it was an anti-Fascist joke and a reaction to the recent, improper advertisement of one Estonian company,” explained Vedler. “We didn't mean to have fun at the expense of any nationality, there is no nationality mentioned in the picture,” he added.
But by using the name of Mengele, a Nazi German doctor who experimented on inmates during World War II, Eesti Ekspress opened up a Pandora's box of horrors from the Holocaust.
The magazine, which has the second-highest weekly circulation in Estonia, has faced protests from Jewish groups.
"It is incomprehensible that a leading and ostensibly respectable news weekly, in a country which is a member in good standing in the European Union, would publish such a perverted attempt at humor at the expense of the Nazis' millions of victims,” said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center in a statement.
Alla Jakobson, spokeswoman for the Estonia Jewish community, told the daily Postimees that the country faces “major problems with moral and ethical values.”
Prior to the war, the Jewish population in Estonia numbered 4,400, but most fled prior to the 1941 Nazi invasion. Of the 1,000 who remained, all were murdered.
In addition, the Nazis built death camps in the country, where they sent up to 10,000 Jews from other lands, nearly all of whom were put to death as well before the Red Army drove the Nazis from Estonia in 1944.
The country came under the rule of the Soviet Union until 1991, when the Iron Curtain fell. Estonia joined the European Union in 2004.