Jewish, Christian and Holocaust education groups have condemned a “sickening” promotional video that depicts Jesus being sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
The That Jew Died For You video was produced by Jews for Jesus, a group that seeks to convert Jews to belief in Jesus as the messiah.
The film recreates scenes of Jews being deported to the Polish concentration camp in 1943. An actor, dressed as Jesus carrying a wooden cross, is directed to the gas chamber. “Just another Jew,” says a Nazi officer.
“It’s sickening, so disgusting,” said Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi for Reform Judaism, who condemned the connection the video makes between the Holocaust, sin and punishment.
Reverend David Gifford, chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), described the three-minute film as appalling and called for it to be withdrawn.
He said: “The use of Holocaust imagery to seek to persuade Jews or others towards a particular religious cause is intrinsically wrong.”
Jonathan Arkush, vice-president of the Board of Deputies, said the video was “a crass attempt to court controversy at the expense of the victims of the Holocaust.”
Both the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Anne Frank Trust UK called for the film to be taken down, while Holocaust survivor Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Jews For Jesus had “taken their abuse of Holocaust imagery to a new low”.
Even the British Messianic Jewish Alliance — a group also working to convert Jews — issued a condemnation. It said: “Portraying Jesus as an Auschwitz victim distorts both the nature of Jesus’s death and the history of the Holocaust.”
But Edward Kessler, executive director of the interfaith Woolf Institute, warned against “shrill” over-reaction, calling for “a more thoughtful and measured response”. He advocated “quiet, off-record meetings” between communal groups and Jews For Jesus. “They need to sit down and quietly explain why it’s so offensive.”
Despite the protests, Julia Pascoe, director of Jews For Jesus UK, said the group had no intention of withdrawing the video.
“Why would we remove a video that brings a message of hope? Jesus is the Jewish messiah. He suffered with the Jewish people in life and he gave up his life for us and our sins. We did not intend to upset anyone — just share the message of hope and start dialogue.”
She said the video aimed to challenge the view that “Jesus was to blame for the Holocaust — I’ve heard that all my life”.
Asked if the implication was that Jewish groups had blamed Jesus instead of the Nazis for the Shoah, she said: “I’m not going to answer that”.
Jews For Jesus was launched in the United States in the early 1970s. A branch opened in Britain in 1992.
Jews For Jesus now has a presence in 27 countries, including a branch in Israel.
The organisation aims to convert Jews to belief in Jesus as the messiah.
Its mission statement says: “We exist to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.”
Its most visible activity is street evangelism – handing out tracts and engaging people in conversation, particular in areas with Jewish populations.
The UK branch publishes a monthly newsletter which, it says, is received by 8,000 people.