Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
The Schmooze

‘The Simpsons’ Go to Auschwitz

Alexsandro Palombo

Oh wow.

I scrolled through the pictures I had just received in an email. I looked at them again. And again. The subject line, I realized, went straight to the point: “The Simpsons go to Auschwitz” — a series of drawings by the controversial Italian artist Alexsandro Palombo, depicting the popular yellow cartoon family as famished inmates of the Nazi death camp.

Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie wearing yellow stars, in striped prisoners’ garbs, and undressed in what seems to be the inside of a gas chamber… you get the idea. The “Arbeit macht frei”-sign, the emaciated legs, the fake showerheads — no question, the imagery was painful and upsetting to look at. And the bright, big-eyed cartoon characters with the funny-shaped heads definitely felt out of place.

Image by Alexsandro Palombo

Well, I thought, let’s try to find out what the artist’s message is. “We must educate the new generations and tell them what happened,” Palombo said, at least according to the email sent out by his press office. And then: “We have to do it without filters, bluntly, over and over again, through the memory of facts and terrifying images that reflect the horror of the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of human beings.”

While I agree (and who wouldn’t?) that future generations need to be taught about the Holocaust, I don’t think that doing it “bluntly” and “over and over again” is the right approach.

As I’ve reported before, merging Nazi-imagery with pop culture is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, yes, we must never forget about these atrocities — which might be why Palombo titled the series “Never Again” — and this might sometimes require unorthodox approaches: If you want the attention of a teenage-Simpson-fan, you’re bound to get it by publishing Bart Simpson as a persecuted Jew.

Image by Alexsandro Palombo

However, the problem is that we have no idea what said teenager will do with these images, and how they are interpreted. Unlike Palombo’s previous work, such as his depiction of female cartoon characters as victims of domestic violence, the message in those pictures is not clear. Looking at the Simpsons’ sad faces while wearing striped pajamas, and the yellow character with dark hair (Anne Frank?) standing outside the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau carrying a sign that says “Never Again” doesn’t help the viewer understand what happened there — and, more importantly, why.

What’s worse, even an emaciated Marge Simpson still looks sort of cute (her blue hair is intact). Seeing the family from Springfield in a death camp is so obscure that it’s funny again. Ridiculing Holocaust-imagery will only add to the overkill we’re already experiencing thanks to the Internet, and might result in exactly the opposite of what Palombo had envisioned: Showing terrifying images without filters will not lead to more awareness, but to people losing their filters.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.