An Israeli art student – and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Rotem Bides – has admitted taking material from Auschwitz for her graduation project in Jerusalem.
According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the Auschwitz museum has said it will pursue charges against Rotem Bides, who visited Auschwitz on half a dozen occasions removing objects from the site, including a sign warning visitors against removing anything.
Images of the 27-year-old student’s exhibition at the Beit Berl college – now removed by the faculty – showed material she had collected from Auschwitz.
Defending her actions, Bides was quoted in the paper as saying she felt she needed to take the material for her project, which reportedly also included her own blood.
“I felt it was something I had to do. Millions of people were murdered based on the moral laws of a certain country, under a certain regime. And if these are the laws, I can go there and act according to my own laws. The statement I’m making here is that laws are determined by humans, and that morality is something that changes from time to time and from culture to culture.
“These are the things I want to deal with. I am a third generation to the Holocaust, but I’m not saying I’m allowed to do it because my grandfather was in Auschwitz. I’m simply asking the questions. I’m concerned that after all the survivors are gone, the Holocaust will turn into a myth, something that cannot be perceived.”
Her academic supervisor, Israel prize-winning artist Michal Na’aman, appeared to go some way towards justifying Bides’s action in the same publication.
“Out of an understanding and appreciation of what she’s trying to do, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. On the other hand, I thought her effort to remove the barrier separating us from the initial aversion related to the events of World War II, for Jews specifically, is one of the things that art does sometimes.”
“Let’s say she didn’t steal, but took a piece of evidence through which she can be part of it. It’s neither devious nor manipulative. The way I see it, she succeeds in creating a unique encounter between art and an event that has passed and has been wrapped in a lot of words, symbols and representations.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, however, has demanded Israel intervene to ensure the removed objects are returned.
“It’s painful and outrageous. The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial is a protected site that stands as testimony of the tragedy of the Holocaust and World War II, which should be preserved for the next generations. It’s hard to imagine theft being justified in any way, even through art, which can be seen as an attempt to gain publicity,” the museum said in a statement.
It is not the first time that objects from the site have been stolen. In the most famous case, in 2009, the infamous metal sign over the gate of the camp emblazoned with the words Arbeit Macht Frei – “work sets you free” – was removed by thieves.