Laughing at the Holocaust in Estonia:Tale of a Travesty

In the Tartu Art Museum, Nazi atrocities are fun and games.

Dr. Inna Rogatchi

OpEds Inna Rogatchi
Inna Rogatchi

On February 7th, 2015, a peculiar exhibition opened at the Tartu Art Museum in Estonia, entitled: My Poland: Remembering and Forgetting. The exhibition, set to last until the end of March, is declared by the organisers to be a "Commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of the Second World War". The exhibition was supported and financed by the Estonian Culture Fund and the Estonian Ministry of Culture.

Other insulting works - with a capital "I" - depict a classic Los-Angeles landscape with giant letters spelling "HOLOCAUST" in place of HOLLYWOOD; a video where naked people are playing tag against the background of a gas chamber; a video in which an elderly man enters a tattoo salon asking ‘to renew’ his tattoo, the concentration camp’ number on his arm . All exhibits in this outrage are of the same character – boorish, arrogant, intentionally insulting  mockery of the Holocaust using the genres of video, photography, comics  and the other garbage, produced and curated by  humanoids from Poland and Estonia.

I believe that their names should be publicized in connection with their intentional, despicable deed. They are:  Zbigniew Libera, Joanna Rajkowska, John Smith (Marko Mäetamm and Kaido Ole), Wilhelm Sasnal, Artur Żmijewski and Yael Bartana. Most of them are Poles, two of them are Estonians, and one, Yael Bartana, is an Israeli living in Berlin and representing Poland in a number of international exhibitions.

Zbignew Libera, who is the author of the photograph Residents, the front-piece of the exhibition, is known previously for his Lego model of a concentration camp, and other scandalous lows of the exercises of the contemporary so-called art.   Marko Mäetamn teaches in the Academy. Artur Zmijewski is the author of the Playing the Tag video which has been officially forbidden in Germany as insulting and inciting to Nazism.

All of these arrogant creatures enjoy the description of themselves as ‘a controversial artist’. What they produce – and what the museum’s cleaners, sane people, regularly throw in garbage bins after having genuinely taken it for a garbage – has as much to do with art as their messages have to do with humanity, morality, conscience, education, knowledge, common sense, and the other features which define a human being from a humanoid.

The curator of this outrage is 24-year-old Rael Artel who became the director of the Tartu Art museum in 2013, after having being an "independent curator" before then. Everybody in the art world knows what "independent curator" means in real life. Translation: nobody. But it does tell something about those who are in charge of culture in Estonia and promoting such creatures to the directorships of their museums.

On the so-called museum’s site there are several writings regarding the exhibition. In the first cheery communiqué, they tell about "outstanding samples of international contemporary art",  noting that almost all the artists are participants in the Venice Bienalle – which sounds like a self-proof mantra for a 24-year old "independent curator". They happily list "only some of the strategies" the artists presented, applying to their interpretation of the Holocaust: "humour, irony,  marketing of history"; this applied in order "to compensate for the injustice” and for “creating an easier talk on Holocaust”.  

Why not  Legolize the Holocaust entirely? It is so funny, and so easy, for brainless, heartless, and sick anti-Semites. The Holocaust is called “an unpleasant topic” in the official press-release of that so-called museum. In another communication, the museum characterizes the Holocaust as “unpleasant smells of the history of matters”. 

The museum also brands one of the key-exhibits, the extremely sick Playing a Tag video, as prohibited in Germany. And they add proudly: “There are many other scandalous and controversial works at the exhibition”.

To attract the public, they have issued a warning: “Attention: Exhibition's works of art may be disruptive”.

After the initial outrage that the exhibition caused in some Estonian circles, but not on a national or official level as yet, the museum decided to post an explanation of their mega-insult. In a rather short text, the general phrases from the initial press-release were repeated, speculating ambiguously  on modern-day "xenophobia in France, Ukraine and Middle East", nothing on Jews and terrorists there, of course.

The organizers stated that they did not intend “to make a cheap scandal”. Indeed, they did not; the costs of that so-called exhibition are quite high.

There was quite an effort expended to choose, to pick up, to collect, to transport, to insure, to mount, to publicize  this collection of sick, malicious outrage, and to finance it all, every stage of it – by public money.

There is a process for approving the organising of such state-supported exhibitions, and here lies the core question on the way that Estonia commemorates the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps and the end of the Second World War.  There were adults who were aware of the exhibition’s concept and its content, and those officials, all of them, are to be called responsible for the massive insult to the victims of the Holocaust and their families.

There is also full grounds for a collective class-action suit against the initiators and executors of such publically organized demonstrations of mockery on the Holocaust, and such action is currently under consideration.

The very fact that such a disgusting travesty, such cheapening of the memory of millions could become possible is yet another sign of where we all find ourselves nowadays, when open, violent, blatant and shameless anti-Semitism has become not just accepted as a routine, but has become a fashion. 

The Jewish Community of Estonia sent an official letter protesting the exhibition to the president of Estonia and the country’s leadership including its prime-minister, minister of culture, and members of the parliament.

The Estonian Members of the European Parliament have been also addressed on the issue. We all would be very interested to hear the reaction of the leaders of the country and its senior officials.

Yad Vashem and the other relevant leading international institutions have been informed of the scandal in Estonia.

The American National Coalition Supporting EuroAsian Jewry is looking into the matter, having been alerted by many people world-wide, as well as the Los-Angeles Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

 So far, this show of mockery has been the only Estonian public or official commemoration of the 70th anniversaries of the dates connected to the liberation of the concentration camps, the end of the World War II, the International Holocaust and Remembrance Day. Perhaps, in the light of the attitude demonstrated by the headless and immoral little monsters supported by the state of Estonia, we should expect a cheerful annual celebration of  Estonia’s declaration of becoming an "judenfrei"’ state, the first of all countries under the Nazi coalition to do so, at the Wannsee Conference, on 20th January 1942. In a way, they just did precisely that.

Dr Inna Rogatchi is the writer, film maker and the president of The Rogatchi Foundation.  Her forthcoming book is Dark Stars, Wise Hearts: Personal Reflections on the Holocaust in the Modern Times; her film The Lessons of Survival will be having its national Australian, French and American premiers in Spring and Summer 2015. 

Editor's Note: One day after the publication of this article, amid protests from the Jewish community, there has been a change at the Museum