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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?


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  1. @ 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.

    Posted by: gwynethcornrow | Dec 29, 2012 4:14:40 AM

  2. 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.

    Posted by: carlo | Dec 29, 2012 9:40:18 AM

  3. Hitler was just a misunderstood artist. Rejection is the most brutal of human conditions and young Adolf underwent the metamorphosis into the monster of our historical lore by his rejection from art school. See him his happiest and read all about it at

    Posted by: Brandt Hardin | Dec 29, 2012 10:16:31 AM

  4. @gwynethcornrow,

    "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!

    Posted by: iban4yesu | Dec 29, 2012 11:17:20 AM

  5. I don't see it as insulting to Jews to place the statue in the Warsaw ghetto. We DEFEATED Hitler. I find it empowering. Am I alone here?

    Posted by: Patrick | Dec 29, 2012 11:34:02 AM

  6. @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.

    Posted by: Bill | Dec 29, 2012 5:33:41 PM

  7. 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.

    Posted by: Diogenes Arktos | Dec 30, 2012 12:45:52 PM

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