Should Maurizio Cattelan’s Hitler Pray In Warsaw Ghetto?

HimItalian artist Maurizio Cattelan's 'HIM,' a 2001 sculpture of Adolf Hitler praying on his knees, has shown all over the world, including New York City's Guggenheim and Venice's Palazzo Grassi, eliciting emotions everywhere it appears. And that's precisely the point.

Cattelan, also infamous for creating a sculpture of Pope John Paul II getting hit by a meteor, deceives the viewer into believing the small body, typically approached from the back, is a school boy.

When they approach and see the big reveal, they're jolted.

"When people see this piece, they react with gasps, tears, disbelief. The impact is stunning," collector and Holocaust survivor Stefan Edlis told The Economist in 2009. "Politics aside, that is how you judge art.”

But should the likeness of the most vile anti-Semite be placed at the site of Poland's Warsaw Ghetto, home to so many Jewish people killed by Hitler's Nazi armies?

Vanessa Gera offers details:

The Warsaw ghetto was an area of the city which the Nazis sealed off
after they invaded Poland. They forced Jews to live in cramped, inhuman
conditions there as they awaited deportation to death camps. Many died
from hunger or disease or were shot by the Germans before they could be
transported to the camps.

The Hitler representation is
visible from a hole in a wooden gate across town on Prozna Street.
Viewers only see the back of the small figure praying in a courtyard.
Because of its small size, it appears to be a harmless schoolboy.

"Every criminal was once a tender, innocent and defenseless child," the center said in a commentary on the work.

HIM was installed there by Warsaw's Center for Contemporary Art last month, but growing outrage is gaining traction this week.

"As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler's only 'prayer' was that they be wiped off the face of the earth," said Efraim Zuroff, director of US-based Jewish rights group The Simon Weisenthal Center's Israeli outpost. Zuroff described the installation as "a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis' Jewish victims."

CCA's director, Fabio Cavallucci, insists HIM isn't mean to insult the memory of the dead. Rather, it's a reminder of "hidden evil" everywhere.

"There is no intention from the side of the artist or the center to insult Jewish memory," he said. "It's an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere."

Michael Shudrich, Poland's chief rabbi, supports HIM, and even wrote an introduction to the exhibition's catalogue. Art "force[s] us to face the evil of the world," he wrote, according to the AP. He also said, "I felt there could be educational value to it."

Do you agree?



  1. Isaac says

    Of course art takes many forms. I think it is far easier to illicit a response from people if you use a known genocidal maniac in your display. It is almost like the artist himself is trolling and trying to get a rise out of people. Not my idea of art, seems to me like a cry for attention and a desperate attempt to be cutting edge.

  2. says

    art is meant to provoke thought and evoke emotion.

    when it comes to Hitler many people still have an aversion to anything that “humanizes” him, but he was a human. And that’s what makes his story and legacy so frightening. He was not a monster. He was a flesh and blood mortal whose inner darknesses changed the shape of the world. We need to remember, with every demonized evil-incarnate throughout history, that these were once children.

    To forget that is to turn a blind eye to the “monsters” of the inevitable future. They are made, not born.

  3. says

    art is meant to provoke thought and evoke emotion.

    when it comes to Hitler many people still have an aversion to anything that “humanizes” him, but he was a human. And that’s what makes his story and legacy so frightening. He was not a monster. He was a flesh and blood mortal whose inner darknesses changed the shape of the world. We need to remember, with every demonized evil-incarnate throughout history, that these were once children.

    To forget that is to turn a blind eye to the “monsters” of the inevitable future. They are made, not born.

  4. Caliban says

    “”As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler’s only ‘prayer’ was that they be wiped off the face of the earth.”

    That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? No matter where/in what context this statue is placed, WHAT you think he’s praying for is projection. Many may see him as “praying for forgiveness” but that’s just projection/assumption too. People pray for nasty sh*t all the time, as shown by the Religious Right in this country.

    Even if you put this statue in a Catholic church I wouldn’t assume he was praying for forgiveness. He could easily be reconnecting with his Catholic faith that was no doubt one source of his virulent antisemitism.

  5. zeddy says

    Why is it that Mr. Zuroff is so afraid of someone seeing Hitler as human? This is a common practice of “maitri” or developing loving kindness, that the Tibetans used during THEIR genocide. You don’t see the Dalai Lama hating on the Chinese when still do this day the Chinese govn’t want to do nothing more than to have him and the rest of the Tibeans dead?

  6. says

    throughout history, and hitler is utterly included in this, those who seek to oppress the masses always attempt to censor ART.

    Hitler was infamous for destroying art that challenged his worldview.

    Boehner, as one of his first acts upon that midterm win, was to remove art from the Smithsonian that provoked and challenged the plebeian bigots.

    Art isn’t just a mirror. It’s a hammer.

  7. Marty says

    An “artist” with no actual acclaim or success who goes for the “cheap laugh”. How hard is it to take something obvious and make it controversial for the sake of controversy? Too many people of dubious talent think they get a free pass by calling it “art” and therefore no one can say anything (the old it’s all relative argument).
    Do something original and maybe we will talk.

  8. Dan Cobb says

    I understand the provocative nature of art… and it’s non-provacative nature as well. We can’t limit art. And we can’t limit provocative art.

    HOWEVER, putting this in the center of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto?

    This statue would be provocative wherever you put it. I think putting it in the Jewish ghetto is not only provocative, but to some degree dismissive of the past. The streets and houses and shops of the Warsaw ghetto is a real place… where real people lived and grew up… and where real people were torn from their everyday reality and brought to real concentration camps where many, if not most were brutalized and murdered. Art is not THAT real. And art cannot occupy the same space –either conceptually or physically. On balance I think this statue should stay far outside the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw! However, I think this decision should be left to the Jews of Warsaw -what few remain. And the kin of Warsaw Jews who were lost to the Holocaust. I realize that making a democratic decision on this is not possible.
    So I would leave it up to the leadership of the Jewish community of Warsaw.

  9. Marty says

    A handful of comments on a blog isn’t exactly “going viral”.
    And this “art” is painfully easy to understand, hence my comments. It’s too easy to understand. There nothing thought provoking,,,just the “cheap laugh”.

  10. Mb says

    @Marty Actually Maurizio Cattelan is not an artist “no actual acclaim or success.” He is an internationally renowned artist whose work has been shown in major museums all over the world and is included in the collections of MAJOR art collectors. He is also already in the art history books because of his accomplishments. He is called the trickster of the art world because of his dark humor that comes with a strong message. Click on the link in the article to see one of his most famous works, the Pope struck down by a meteor. Also this piece is not new. It has to be at least a decade old by now and has been shown many many times all over the world. It wasn’t created for the space it is now being shown in, that was a curator’s decision.

  11. Gigi says

    @MARTY Are you familiar with his body of work? I already know the answer: No, you’re not. It’s one thing to dislike something that an artist has created, but entirely another to paint him as a hack when you know nothing about him.

  12. mikenola says

    Some of the questions this statue evokes is What god did Hitler Pray too? What religion molded his thinking and did the leaders do something in their teachings that justified his actions?

    There are more questions this should bring up in minds of Jews, Muslims, Christians, hell in every organized religion.

    Things like Are the teachings of my religion able to construct and organize a creature such as Hitler?

    Is our teaching filled with segments of hate, revulsion or fear? teaching people that our God encourages those things?

    Does our teaching emphasis or repudiate those teachings?

    Does our teaching encompass the current world we live in? or does it demand we live by the world of thousands of years ago? which is the best way to be faithful to our religion and to humanity at the same time?

    Fear of facing & answering those questions is one of the reasons for the anger about this art piece. Would I buy it? probably not, but that does not mean it should not be shown in the contexts that will evoke the most response, positive and negative.

  13. Rrhain says

    This is the flip side to what I call the “doesn’t kick puppies” syndrome. That is, if we can just show that someone doesn’t do something we all agree is evil, like kicking puppies, then that must mean the person isn’t evil. This is the flip side of that: That because a person is bad, that must mean he’s bad through and through (and thus, would kick puppies).

    As LITTLEKIWI pointed out, Hitler was a human being. Even if we assume that his “only ‘prayer’ was that they [Jews] be wiped off the face of the earth,” that still doesn’t justify the idea that he was evil in every action he ever did. Nobody lives like that.

    If we truly want to understand what happened, then we have to recognize that fact. This wasn’t a supernatural occurrence. It was monstrous, but it wasn’t carried out by monsters.

    That said, not everybody is amenable to the message. While I don’t see a problem with this method of presentation in and of itself, I completely understand why some might not want to hear it. The problem I have with people who create art that is “designed to provoke a conversation” is that there is never anybody around to have that conversation with. For those that see this piece and have a visceral reaction to it, the immediate question is why. Why that reaction? It’s hard for people to have such discussions internally and rationally.

    But then again, people rarely want to examine any extreme emotional reaction they have to someone. It’s akin to that adage that some people are never happy unless they’re upset about something. Once they get an idea in their head, they don’t want anybody questioning it. Any such examination would mean that maybe their feelings are “wrong,” even if nobody said that. Just trying to understand why you are having those feelings is interpreted to mean that there is something wrong about having them in the first place and they don’t want to give up that reaction.

    I will leave the question of whether or not this is “profound” to others. I’m just sad that again, we have people insisting that it *must* mean what they demand it to mean.

  14. gregory brown says

    It’s appropriate that Jews use phrases like “Never Forget” and “Never Again” to call attention to the particular horror that Hitler and his gang unleashed on them. Sometimes they overlook the facts of other genocides and atrocities inflicted on others both before and since The Holocaust ™.

    I add that ™ to object to the assertion that there can be only one Holocaust worth talking about.

    This provocative statue is challenging because it reminds us that EVIL is always present in the world. The innocent prayerful schoolboy is as capable of embodying it as anyone. For that very reason he installation in the Warsaw Ghetto is effective, and maybe necessary as a challenge to those who want to keep the Business in their own hands for their own purposes.

  15. says

    I have always subscribed to the English belief that if you laugh at something you take away its power. Mel Brooks has made a career of doing just that. Disregarding the subject matter, the statue itself is beautifully rendered, with elements of surprise, realization, shock, and in some cases horror-the job of artwork.
    Let the statue remain. At the very least it will promote further discussion and dissection of the Holocaust and its effects across the world. At worst it will remind people of why Hitler’s works and influence should never be allowed to happen again-the job of artwork.

  16. rapture says

    I think this is a poignant reminder that genocidal maniacs can be (frequently are) deeply religious. Lets not forget the role of the Catholic Church during Mr. Hitlers regime.

  17. gwynethcornrow says

    @ Richard Harney: although Hitler’s parents were both Catholics an he was raised as one, he certainly was not a devout Catholic.

    I find it interesting, as many other commenters have, that it is only the American in this article who objects to the piece and fails to grasp how art works. This piece isn’t about “humanizing” evil but about recognizing its banality.

  18. carlo says

    It is time to call for a Systemic Constellation supported by Bert Hellinger between the Nazi descendants and the Jewish descendants.

    The Constellation has to take place in Nuremberg.

  19. iban4yesu says


    “it is only the American in this article who objects to the piece…..”

    Good point!
    And it’s not a coincident that in the West Bank, the most vicious settlers are the American ones! Yikes, indeed!

  20. Bill says

    @iban4yesu: while you may think that humanizing Hitler is bad, depicting him honestly (regardless of the art-work in question) is important for understanding how to prevent it from happening again.

    I’m not sure why showing him praying would be offensive – an MRI study showed that, when you ask religious people what God thinks, the same parts of the brain get activated as when you ask them what they themselves think. Different areas get activated if you ask them what someone else thinks.

  21. Diogenes Arktos says

    I believe in taking the Chief Rabbi’s lead here.

    Zuroff shouldn’t be viewed as American but affiliated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center – as such his views are as expected.

    The Center for Contemporary Art could very well be dominated by RC. As such, they have their own embarrassment about Hitler’s biography.

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