After removing the materials from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, an Israeli art student tells a local newspaper she can “act according to her own laws,” having no qualms about stealing assorted items for an exhibition in her graduation show.
An Israeli woman facing potential charges in Poland after she snatched artifacts from the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for use in her college art project has insisted that she can “act according to her own laws.”
Removing items from the site, where more than one million people are estimated to have been murdered during the Holocaust, is strictly prohibited, a rule made clear by numerous signs dotted around the compound.
Yet Rotem Bides, a final year arts student at Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba, told the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper she had no qualms about taking spoons, a shard of glass, a nail and other items for exhibition in her graduation show.
Bides, who did not respond to a request for comment, even prominently displays in her project a sign on which it is written in bold red font that “it is forbidden to move, remove, or damage any of the structures or items on the grounds of the Museum and under its protection.”
Furious, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum said it intends to report the case to Polish prosecutors.
“This is an extremely painful and outrageous story for us,” Museum spokesman Bartosz Bartyzel told i24NEWS in an emailed statement.
“The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site is a protected integral whole. It is a clear evidence of the tragedy of the Holocaust and the Second World War, which is to testify for future generations.”
“It is difficult to even imagine that a theft could be justified in any way – also through art which can be seen only as an attempt to gain publicity.”
Bartyzel said the Museum found out about the alleged theft only through the Israeli media report, and that could not verify that the items were removed from the grounds.
As well as Polish authorities, the Museum has also written to the Israeli Ambassador in Poland, and Bartyzel said he hopes “that the Israeli Prosecutors will be up to the task.”
The Israeli Embassy in Warsaw has been contacted for comment.
Lying at the center of Nazi Germany’s web of concentration and extermination facilities, Auschwitz was a sprawling detention and slave labour camp in southern Poland that also included the gas chambers and ovens of Birkenau.
By way of explaining her decision to remove the array of material, Bides noted to Yedioth Ahronotthat her grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
“I felt it was something I had to do,” she told the newspaper. “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. 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.
“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.”
Bides’ supervisor, acclaimed Israel-prize winning visual artist Michal Neeman, leapt to her pupil’s defence in the same article.
“The interesting thing is she brings it to an extreme place in which she feels the need to shock herself before shocking us,” said Neeman. “She isn’t manipulative in the uninteresting way: wanting money, success or publicity.”
Theft from former Nazi sites across Europe has long been a problem for those who oversee the facilities, with motivations ranging from familial mementos, artifact smuggling and art.
Those found guilty of theft from Auschwitz-Birkenau face up to ten years in prison, according to a BBC report from last year which recounted how two British teens were charged with stealing items from the ground adjacent to where Jews were forced into the gas chambers.
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