Artist torches barn in Holocaust memorial

By Jennifer Lipman, July 12, 2010

A Polish artist has fired up debate after he burned down a barn to commemorate a Holocaust massacre and campaign against antisemitism.

Members of Poland’s Jewish community criticised the project but performance artist Rafal Betlejewski said he had been trying to remind the public of the 1941 Jedwabne massacre in which hundreds of Jews were burnt alive by Polish Nazi sympathisers.

Mr Betlejewski said the performance, in which he incinerated papers with “dark thoughts” about Jews written on them , was “addressed to those ignorant who know nothing about Jews' input in Poland's history.”

He said he wanted to remind people of how before the Holocaust Poland had a “big and significant Jewish minority, which participated in Poland's cultural, social and scientific development.”

But Jewish groups slammed the stunt as tasteless.

Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, said: "We cannot fill many empty cards in the Polish-Jewish history by burning down a wooden shack.

"An absolute majority of my colleagues were negative about this idea."

However, the Polish Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, praised the artist for “struggling to break stereotypes and hatred.”

Rabbi Schudrich said: “He is seeking ways to provoke people ro deal with unpleasant facts and realities.

“His intentions are pure, even though his methods may not be appreciated by all.”

Last updated: 4:34pm, July 12 2010