German activists apologize for using ‘ashes of Auschwitz victims’ in protest
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German activists apologize for using ‘ashes of Auschwitz victims’ in protest

Giant urn outside Reichstag now covered in black plastic; Center for Political Beauty says its intention was to highlight far-right extremism

An oversized urn covered with a black plastic wrap placed by the artist group Center for Political Beauty in front of German parliament building, the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, December 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
An oversized urn covered with a black plastic wrap placed by the artist group Center for Political Beauty in front of German parliament building, the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, December 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

An activist group apologized Wednesday to outraged Jewish organizations over an urn placed outside the German parliament that the activists claim holds the remains of Holocaust victims.

The Center for Political Beauty said it hadn’t intended to hurt the feelings of Holocaust survivors and their descendants when it placed the urn in front of the Reichstag building Monday. It said its intention was to highlight the dangers of far-right extremism by showcasing the remains it claims it found near former Nazi death camps.

On Thursday morning, the transparent urn, about the size of an oil drum, was covered with black plastic wrap.

Jewish groups such as the International Auschwitz Committee and Germany’s Central Council of Jews expressed outrage, saying the installation disturbed the peace of the dead.

“Auschwitz survivors are aghast at this installation, which hurts their feelings and the eternal peace of the dead of their murdered relatives,” the International Auschwitz Committee said.

An oversized urn covered with a black plastic wrap placed by the artist group ‘Center for Political Beauty” near the German parliament building, the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, December 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The Center for Political Beauty, known for provocative stunts, said the urn contained victims’ remains that it had unearthed from 23 locations near Nazi death and concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Ukraine. Soil the group said contained the remains could be seen in the transparent orange urn, which is about the size of an oil drum, set atop a metal pillar.

The group, whose members consider themselves political artists, said its actions aim to show that in Germany “the legacy of the Holocaust is rendered void by political apathy, the rejection of refugees and cowardice.”

The urn serves as a warning in times of growing far-right extremism of how conservative forces in Germany helped pave the way for Adolf Hitler’s fascists to come to power in 1933, the group said.

Six million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis, many of them transported from around Europe to be killed in the death camps like Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka that the Germans established in occupied Poland.

“Some of the survivors told me: ‘My beloved family members were carted so much across Europe during the deportations — why can’t they just be left in peace now?’” Christoph Heubner from the Auschwitz Committee told The Associated Press.

Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich in Warsaw, Poland, on January 18, 2019.(Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images via JTA)

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said moving the remains of the dead is forbidden according to Jewish law.

“The human remains of Holocaust victims are especially holy and require the greatest care and sensitivity,” Schudrich told the AP. “According to Jewish tradition, they should remain in their original grave and certainly should not be used for any other purpose, even a purpose which some may think is worthy.”

Germany’s leading Jewish group, the Central Council of Jews, said that while it welcomed political action against far-right extremism, even in provocative ways, the latest stunt by the Center for Political Beauty was “problematic.”

It isn’t the first time the activists have irritated Jewish groups with their installations. Two years ago, they erected a Holocaust memorial outside the home of a nationalist politician who suggested Germany should end the decades-long tradition of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past. Critics said the memorial was about political activism and not about the victims of the Holocaust.

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