July 21, 2017

Israeli Student Sparks Outcry After Using Auschwitz Artifacts in Art Installation

KFAR SABA, ISRAEL—Rotem Bides, a twenty-seven-year old art student at Beit Berl College’s Faculty of Art, has caused an uproar over her use of artifacts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum for her final art project. Megan Specia reports for The New York Times that the student collected shards of glass, small bowls, two spoons, a metal screw, and a sign informing visitors not take objects from the memorial’s grounds over the course of five visits to the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum has accused Bides of theft and filed an official complaint against her with Poland’s National Public Prosecutor’s Office. Beit Berl College has cancelled her graduation exhibition, which was scheduled to open on July 26 and has taken disciplinary action against Bides. The school issued a statement saying that it “condemns the theft of items from any place, and certainly from an extermination camp” and that Bides’s actions demonstrate “a lack of sensitivity and a misunderstanding of its criminal significance.”

Bides told Israeli news site Ynetnews that removing the artifacts from Auschwitz was “something [she] had to do.” Bides, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, explained her project as an investigation into her family’s history. “These are the things I want to deal with. I am a third generation to the Holocaust, but I’m not saying I’m allowed to do it because my grandfather was in Auschwitz. I’m simply asking the questions. I’m concerned that after all the survivors are gone, the Holocaust will turn into a myth, something that cannot be perceived.”

“Millions of people were murdered based on the moral laws of a certain country, under a certain regime. And if these are the laws, I can go there and act according to my own laws,” Bides said. “The statement I’m making here is that laws are determined by humans, and that morality is something that changes from time to time and from culture to culture.”

In a statement to the Times, Bides said that the artifacts were not removed from displays in the Auschwitz museum or the camp, but from a “nearby area.” The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covers hundreds nearly five hundred acres and its grounds and artifacts are protected by international and Polish law.

Lukasz Lipinski, a press officer for the Memorial and Museum said that it would be difficult to locate exactly where the artifacts were taken from as such objects are found across the site’s grounds but the museum was working with Polish authorities to determine the artifacts’ provenance. “These things are of special value for Polish culture,” he said. “Anything taken from the museum is part of the history of the site. It is against the law, of course, to take anything.”

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