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Statue of Hitler praying is displayed in former Warsaw ghetto to controversy

Tomasz Gzell / EPA

The statue of Hitler as a schoolboy kneeling in prayer is visible through this viewing hole as part of an exhibit in Warsaw, Poland.

A statue of Adolph Hitler kneeling in prayer in a courtyard in the former Warsaw Ghetto – where hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced by Nazis to live in inhumane conditions during World War II – has upset those who say the statue's placement is offensive.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish Advocacy group, described the decision to place the statue in the former ghetto as “a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazi’s Jewish victims,” according to the Guardian of London.

Before World War II, Warsaw had the largest Jewish community in Poland and Europe; worldwide it was second only to New York City, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia. During World War II, about 300,000 Jews in the ghetto died – most of hunger and disease and after being sent to concentration camps where they were killed.

Tomasz Gzell / EPA

Through the hole in a wooden gate, viewers can see a kneeling figure with his back turned. Viewed from the front, that figure is Adolph Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party who sought to exterminate Jews.

Organizers argue that the statue is intended to be thought-provoking, according to The Associated Press. The exhibition’s catalogue says art “can force us to face the evil of the world.”

The statue, made by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan in 2001, is titled, “HIM” and has drawn thousands of viewers since it was installed in Warsaw last month.  

The body of the statue is of a schoolboy kneeling in prayer, and the head is made to resemble Hitler’s. Before being installed in Poland, the statue was shown in galleries, usually at the end of a long hallway with its back to viewers. Only when viewers approached could they see Hitler’s face. Reviewing an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in 2011, The New York Times described the statue as “Hitler as a kneeling schoolboy possibly asking forgiveness.”

Cattelan created a similar effect in the former ghetto, where the statue is visible only through a hole in a wooden gate. Cattelan, who is based in New York, has been described as a satirical artist who produced another piece that generated controversy in Warsaw -- an effigy of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite. Titled “La Nona Ora,” or “Ninth Hour,” the work was also displayed in Poland, a deeply Catholic country.

Zofia Jablonska, 30, told The Associated Press that she thought the best spot for the statue was in “the place where he would kill people.”

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, was consulted about the installation, according to the Guardian, and said he believes it has educational value. Rather than support Hitler, Schudrich told the Guardian it shows that even evil lurks in the shape of a “sweet praying child.”

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