As much as we might detest the idea, we can visualize a virulent anti-Semite, neo-Nazi or skinhead wanting to erect a statue of Adolf Hitler.
We can even stretch our imagination to understand how Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum — for the sake of horror and shock value, if nothing else — put up such a likeness.
What we find impossible to understand is the motivation behind an Italian artist to display a statue of Hitler in a building bordering, of all places, the Warsaw Ghetto.
It was reported last week that a statue of history’s worst war criminal has reportedly been placed by Maurizio Cattelan, as part of an exhibition he entitles “Amen,” in Warsaw’s Center for Contemporary Art.
The art center says the exhibition adheres to the theme of “love thy enemy,” and asks this question on its website: “What does forgiving those who trespass against us mean? Evoking the traumas of history, they deal with memory and forgetfulness, good and evil.”
The prayer quoted in that rather obtuse description refers to Christian sources, of course. Most of us know that Jesus did indeed say “love thy enemy,” and that he was an advocate of turning one’s other cheek when struck by that enemy.
But somehow we doubt the sincerity (or at least the clarity) of Cattelan’s Christian attributions. While Christian doctrine does incorporate ideas of forgiveness and non-violence that don’t coincide with Jewish principles, we can hardly visualize most Christians — or even Jesus himself — condoning a statue with the likeness of a man who has the blood of innocent millions on his hands.
Nor can we reconcile the confluence of an image of Hitler with the word “amen” — a word of affirmation — in any context whatsoever.
We’re not saying that the memory or image of such a monster as Adolf Hitler should be obliterated or blotted from memory. Quite the opposite. The deeds of such a figure should be taught in schools, written about in books, referred to in speeches, remembered precisely for what they were: Unspeakable atrocities that must never be repeated.
They most definitely should not be memorialized with a statue — traditionally an artistic tribute reserved for great thinkers, leaders and heroes.
And certainly not in such a place as the Warsaw Ghetto, the scene of some of that figure’s worst crimes against humanity.
We do not know enough of Maurizio Catellan to conclude whether his decision to erect a statue of Hitler was a deliberate act of anti-Semitism — though that certainly appears possible — or merely an amazingly inept exercise in artistic expression.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Such a statue should never have been erected in the first place. Now that it has, it should be taken down as soon as possible.
And once removed, it should never be raised again.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News