A German activist art collective is apologizing for a stunt that allegedly involved the remains of Holocaust victims.
On Monday, the Center for Political Beauty (ZPS) placed an oversized urn on a metal pillar close to the Reichstag in Berlin, the home of Germany’s parliament, the BBCreported. The ZPS stated that the contents of the urn were taken from 23 sites near former concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Ukraine. The group claims that soil from these sites contains ashes due to the Nazis’ practice of dumping cremated remains from the death camp ovens in nearby rivers and fields.
The installation was meant as a protest against far-right elements in the Germany, notably the political party Alternative for Germany, which, since 2013, have been agitating to de-emphasize the Holocaust in German history and pushing an anti-immigration platform. ZPS is a vocal critic of the party. In 2017, the group set up a replica of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial outside the house of Alternative for Germany politician Björn Höcke, after he called the structure “a monument of shame.”
Initially, the group of artist-activists defended the installation, telling the Associated Press that “the legacy of the Holocaust is rendered void by political apathy, the rejection of refugees and cowardice.” But on Thursday, after continued pressure from Jewish individuals and institutions, including the International Auschwitz Committee, the group covered the transparent orange panel that allowed passerby to view the urn’s contents with black plastic, according to the British paper Metro. The controversial memorial bears the slogan “Remembering means Fighting.”
Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Deutsche Welle, per Metro’s translation, that “from a Jewish perspective, the Center for Political Beauty’s latest campaign is problematic because it violates Jewish religious law about not disturbing the dead,” noting the group should have sought counsel from a rabbi before disrupting the soil.
ZPS addressed this concern on its website, according to the BBC, writing, “In particular we want to apologize to the Jewish institutions, associations or individuals who feel that our work disturbed the peace required for the dead, according to the Jewish religion.” ZPS also issued an apology to survivors and their relatives.
The urn’s positioning in front of the Reichstag is significant: The building played a pivotal role in Hitler’s ascent to power, and currently hosts a number of Alternative for Germany politicians recently elected to parliament. The timing of its placement, and its exhortation to remember but also to combat hate, is also notable: on Friday, Angela Merkel visited Auschwitz — where over 1 million victims of the Holocaust were murdered — for the first time as chancellor.
“Our work, our whole political and artistic activity, is driven by outrage at the Nazis’ crimes, whose goal was to deny their victims all dignity,” ZPS said in their statement.
A year ago, ZPS revealed they were behind an online database operation that identified around 1,500 neo-Nazis involved in the August 2018 Chemnitz anti-immigrant riots.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org