Israeli College to Allow Auschwitz Exhibit After Assurances Artifacts Not Stolen

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The main gate at the former German death camp of Auschwitz, in Oswiecim, Poland. The photo was taken on October 19, 2012.
The main gate at the former German death camp of Auschwitz, in Oswiecim, Poland. The photo was taken on October 19, 2012.Credit: Czarek Sokolowski/AP

An art student whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors will use artifacts she was accused of stealing from Auschwitz in her final project, which is to go on exhibition next week. This was decided by the Beit Berl Academic College after looking into the affair.

Rotem Bides, a student at Beit Berl College, said she had removed samples from the Auschwitz concentration camp and museum on six visits, including pieces of glass, small bowls, a metal screw and a sign warning visitors not to remove anything, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Monday.

The Auschwitz museum said it will file charges against Bides, the newspaper reported on Wednesday. However, the Beit Berl management said yesterday that after a hearing with the student, who asserted she did not steal the objects, the college approved the exhibition and intends to send a letter of clarification to the museum.

After the first Yediot story on Bides was published, Beit Berl issued a statement saying it removed her work from the exhibition and had summoned her to a disciplinary hearing.

“The college denounces any theft of objects from anywhere and certainly from an extermination camp,” the statement said. “The college believes this act shows lack of public sensitivity and a misunderstanding of its criminal significance.”

However, following the hearing on Wednesday, the college management said Bides claimed she did not steal from Auschwitz but gathered things outside the camp like stones, earth and an old sign.

“The student said her words were taken out of context by the journalists who interviewed her and that they put words in her mouth,” the management said.

“The student sent a letter of clarification to the college management, stating she had committed nothing criminal like stealing and apologizing to anyone offended by the reportthe college decided to allow her to present her final project at the exhibition. Also, the college will send a letter to the Auschwitz museum to clear up any misunderstanding caused by the erroneous report,” the statement said.

Beside her work, Bides, 27, will display a letter explaining the creation process.

Dean: 'In Israel, you have to be sensitive'

Gabi Klezmer, dean of the art faculty, told Haaretz it was important that the student had made it clear that she did not steal the objects. Asked about museums worldwide that exhibit stolen works, he said, “They don’t declare them as stolen. Here there was a statement that the objects had been stolen and it created some obfuscation. Maybe as a teacher training institution we should be more sensitive. We’re in Israel and we know that if you put a swastika [on anything] or encourage BDS you could be in trouble.”

Gabi Klezmer, dean of the dean of the art faculty.Credit: Ilya Malnikov.

Klezmer said Bides’ work is interesting. “She turned the Holocaust into a private event. I don’t think she broke into the museum but gathered objects from the area.”

Curator Gilad Melzer, who teaches at Beit Berl, posted a status on Facebook commending the work. “It’s a work exhibiting itself as fact-based, and plays with the truth,” he writes. “The tension between the background story and the result puts us – and the objects – in a state of discomfort. Let’s assume for a moment that what Bides is telling us is true, that she stole objects from Auschwitz – isn’t all of Auschwitz a site of theft and death? Doesn’t what remains there belong to ‘us,’ the descendants?”

He says the work is a “fitting answer to the greatest art robbery of the 20th century, committed by the Nazis, whose results are still scattered in private collections worldwide and in a few respectable museums.”

He said the student had “beaten everyone. Nobody remembers 95 percent of the final projects. She managed to create a discussion even before the exhibition opened. ... She succeeded in making people think.”

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