Narva theater takes down 'Mein Kampf' play poster

Publicity photo from the Powszechny Theater's production of 'Mein Kampf'.
Publicity photo from the Powszechny Theater's production of 'Mein Kampf'. Source: Press materials

A theater in the Estonian border town of Narva has had to remove a poster promoting a theater production named after Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's 1925 treatise 'Mein Kampf'.

Vaba Lava Narva is still putting on the production, which was originally staged by the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, Poland, as part of a five-day festival later this month which showcases controversial plays, some of which have been banned in their countries of origin.

Marianna Kiseleva, chair of Narva's Jewish community, says that fascism is an extremely painful issue, adding that text or other references to the Nazi regime should not be used, even if the motives are noble.

Kiseleva said: "We won't be going to see this production and we don't like the fact it is coming at all. Any reflection of Hitler and fascism is the most unpleasant thing there is. We have a negative attitude towards everything related to the war and to Hitler."

The focal point of the original poster which was removed after about a week, consisted a photograph of Hitler on the cover of an edition of the original "Mein Kampf".

Although the play shares the name of Hitler's work, written while he was in prison in the aftermath of the failed 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch, and has some dialog reportedly inspired by the original text, its creators say it is intended to provoke discussion about anti-semitism in modern Poland, inside whose present-day borders the sites of most of the largest and most notorious death camps, including Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz, lie.

The current political situation in that country is also in focus, creators say.

The Vaba Lava Narva festival, which runs August 17-24, has free speech as its overriding theme.

Vaba Lava board chair Allan Kaldoja sid that: "This piece is about how many words need to be strung together to create a narrative that results in one ordinary person killing another, ordinary person."

"This production compares Hitler's quotes with the quotes of modern politicians, and the sadness of the whole thing is that it's impossible to say whose statements belong to whom," Kaldoja went on, according to ERR's culture portal.

"This is a humanist, and anti-fascist, production. It's hard for me to understand what can be protested about here," Kaldoja went on, adding that an adverse reaction to the poster suggested to him either that the individual was still a free person, or that they were susceptible to manipulation.

The theater still concedes the advert, which had contained, albeit in small print, an explanation that it was an anti-fascist production, was provocative. A replacement poster has reproduced in several places the disclaimer text, in a much larger font, overlaid on the original image, ERR reports.

Europe-wide, the issue of the holocaust in Poland has been addressed on more than one occasion over the past years. British journalist and food critic Giles Coren, for instance, hit controversy in 2008 over remarks he made in his Times column about recent Polish immigrants in the U.K., which had seen a surge after EU accession in 2004.

Around the same time, British comic and actor Peter Serafinowicz invoked the Human Rights Act in that country over media publicity that his grandfather had been a Nazi collaborator during the occupation of present-day Belarus.

A 2019 diplomatic spat on the issue led to the cancellation of an official visit to Israel by Poland's prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki.

During the Nazi occupation of Estonia, the vast majority of those Jews who had not already fled the country and still remained – numbering between 900 and 1,000 people by some estimates – were killed, while thousands of Jews transported from other parts of Europe to Estonian territory were also slaughtered, including an estimated 6,000 at Kalevi-Liiva, Harju County.

Narva itself experienced large-scale destruction during the war, particularly during the battle which raged there February-August 1944.

Vaba Lava Narva has not been a stranger to protests in recent months; in late May this year, demonstrators protested a pro-LGBT+ production, ERR's Culture portal reports.

"We run a festival which is focused on human rights and civil liberties. This is all the more so with our festival being at the right time, and in the right place. There are issues that need to be discussed, because if we do not talk about freedom at the right time," Allan Kaldoja said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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