Indonesian museum’s ‘fun’ Nazi display brings outrage

AFP-JIJI, AP

An Indonesian museum that allowed visitors to take selfies with a life-size wax sculpture of Hitler against a backdrop of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp has removed the exhibit following international outrage, the manager said Saturday.

De Mata in the Javanese city of Jogjakarta drew swift condemnation from rights groups after details of the controversial display were published in foreign media.

The exhibit features a sure-footed Hitler standing in front of a huge photo of the gates of Auschwitz — the largest Nazi concentration camp, where more than 1.1 million people were killed.

The museum’s operations manager, Jamie Misbah, said the wax sculpture had been removed after the building was alerted to criticism from a prominent Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“We don’t want to attract outrage,” Misbah said. “Our purpose to display the Hitler figure in the museum is to educate.”

The Hitler sculpture is one of about 80 figures, including world leaders and celebrities, at the wax and visual effects center.

The Nazi-themed exhibit was a popular attraction for visitors to take selfies, and photos circulating on social media show customers — including children — posing with Hitler and in some cases using the Nazi salute.

Misbah said he thought it was “normal” for visitors to take photos in front of displays but said the museum respected that the exhibit had upset people from around the world.

Historians have blamed poor schooling for the lack of awareness and sensitivity about the Holocaust in Indonesia, which is home to the world’s biggest Muslim population.

Human Rights Watch denounced the exhibit as “sickening,” and the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which campaigns against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, demanded its immediate removal.

“Everything about it is wrong. It’s hard to find words for how contemptible it is,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center. “The background is disgusting. It mocks the victims who went in and never came out.”

The waxwork portrays Hitler as an imposing and dominant figure, a far cry from the drug-addled physical wreck who committed suicide on April 30, 1945.

Behind the waxwork is a giant image of Auschwitz and the slogan “Arbeit macht frei” — “Work sets you free” — that appeared over the entrance to Auschwitz and other camps where millions of Jews and others were systematically killed.

To one side of Hitler there is Darth Vader. Directly opposite is Indonesian President, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

It was not the first time Nazism and its symbols have been normalized or even idealized in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation and home to a tiny Jewish community. A Nazi-theme cafe in the city of Bandung where waiters wore SS uniforms caused anger abroad for several years until reportedly closing its doors at the beginning of this year. In 2014, a music video made by Indonesian pop stars as a tribute to presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto stirred outrage with its Nazi overtones.

The latest episode has surfaced during an upsurge in nationalistic rhetoric in Indonesia.

Cooper said it is inexcusable that a business would intentionally use Nazism and the Holocaust to make money and deplored the “disconnect” with history. “When Hitler was finished with Europe, he was going to come after the folks in Asia,” he said.

Human Rights Watch’s Indonesia researcher, Andreas Harsono, said the waxwork and its concentration camp backdrop were “sickening” and a reflection that anti-Jewish sentiment in Indonesia is more widespread than generally appreciated.

He said the conflict between Israel and Palestine has fed anti-Semitism in Indonesia for decades but the prejudice has deeper roots in narrow interpretations of the Quran.