The Islamic community in Estonia has acted in support of the protest by the local Jewish community in connection with the provocative exhibition on the Holocaust that opened in Tartu over the weekend.
"We are of the opinion that Estonia has always supported people from different backgrounds, and their peaceful coexistence. It is important that the ethnic divisions in our society would not deepen and all relations would be based on trust and mutual understanding," Ildar Muhametshin, Mufti of the Islamic community of Estonia, said in a letter that was addressed to the Minister of Culture, Urve Tiidus.
A copy of the letter was also sent to the Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves and the parliament speaker Eiki Nestor.
The Estonian Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center have already called for the removal of an exhibition in Tartu which it believes mocks the victims of the Holocaust and insults their memory.
The museum said that the exhibition, titled "My Poland. On Recalling and Forgetting", brings together works that according to the museum, could be seen as a number of artistic proposals to talk about a painful episode from the past and to deal with this particular traumatic experience in contemporary reality.
The trouble arose because the participating artists depict the tragic events through the prism of humor, rather than what they were – a horrible genocide against innocent people.
For example, a video by a Polish artist Artur Żmijewski depicts an Aushcwitz gas chamber where a group of naked people cheerfully dance around and play tag. There is another video where an artist is asking a 92-year old Holocaust survivor to renew concentration camp tattoo on his arm.
"While the exhibition claims to attempt to deal with trauma through humor, the result is a sickening mockery of the mass murder of European Jewry and the important ongoing efforts to commemorate the victims' memory and impart the lessons of the Holocaust. Thus, for example, one of the pieces in the exhibition is a film in which naked actors play tag in what is supposed to represent a gas chamber, a shameful parody of the fate of millions of Jews who were murdered in death camps. Such perverted humor has no place in any country, least of all one in which Holocaust crimes were perpetrated not only by Germans and Austrians, but by local Estonian Nazi collaborators as well," the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement.
Many Estonian politicians have already denounced the exhibition, including parliament's deputy speakers Jüri Ratas and Laine Randjärv, and former foreign minister and now MEP Urmas Paet.
“Tartu Art Museum should take into account the concerns voiced by the local Jewish community, as well as many Estonians, and make changes to this exhibition, as it hurts too many people. It is clear that if the descendants of the victims of these 20th century crimes against humanity feel offended, then the museum should quickly take this into consideration and put a brake on an offensive exhibition. I believe that the victims and their surviving loved ones deserve an empathy from the modern Estonian society,” Paet said.
After the uproar, the director of Tartu Art Museum, Rael Artel, admitted that the videos have been disapproved by the local Jewish community. "Therefore we decided that the videos will be exhibited only by the visitor’s request and will be complemented with curator’s commentary. We apologize for everyone, whose feelings this exhibition has upset. Certainly the aim is not to insult, but reminiscence the painful events in history. We wish to invite the visitors to think about crimes against humanity in Poland, Estonia and all over the world and discuss how everyone could contribute to the world so that such events wouldn’t ever happen again," Artel said. She refused, however, to remove the videos.
Editor: S. Tambur