A statue of a praying Adolf Hitler at the gates of the former Warsaw Ghetto in Poland has touched off a storm of controversy.
The praying Hitler statue, titled “HIM,” is the creation of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The artist has not explained what Hitler is praying for, the Associated Press reported, and that the point of the statue is for people to “reflect on the nature of evil.”
Art organizations have been defending the praying Hitler statue while Jewish groups condemned the work.
"As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler's only 'prayer' was that they be wiped off the face of the earth," Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, told the AP.
The center called the statue “a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis’ Jewish victims.”
Experts in the art world, however, have suggested that Cattelan did not make the statue to insult Jews.
"There is no intention from the side of the artist or the center to insult Jewish memory,” Fabio Cavalucci, director at the Center for Contemporary Art, told the AP. “It’s an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere.”
The placement of the statue is in an area sensitive to Jews. The Warsaw Ghetto was cordoned off by the Nazis after they invaded Poland. Jews lived in cramped conditions before they were taken to Nazi death camps.
The praying Hitler statue is only visible from a hole in a wooden gate from Warsaw’s Prozna Street, the AP reported. The statue is small, and it’s difficult for viewers to identify the subject as Hitler. The newswire service said that the piece looks more like “a harmless schoolboy” than the dictator.
“Every criminal was once a tender, innocent and defenseless child,” said a description of the artwork from the Center for Contemporary Art.
Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, said the center advised him about where to place the praying Hitler statue and did not oppose its location, the AP reported.
He said the center told him that it was not trying to glorify Hitler and that the praying statue was intended to show evil can hide itself under the guise of a “sweet praying child.”
"I felt there could be educational value to it," Schudrich told the AP.
The newswire service said some visitors who walked near the statue did not find it offensive.
"It had a big emotional impact on me. It's provocative, but it's not offensive," said Zofia Jablonska, 30, an attorney. "Having him pray in the place where he would kill people — this was the best place to put it."
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