A mu­seum didn’t think its Hitler statue was a prob­lem

A mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer said the wax fig­ure was one of its most pop­u­lar

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY CLEVE R. WOOT­SON JR. cleve.woot­son@wash­post.com

In­done­sia’s De MATA trick-eye mu­seum is best en­joyed with a fully charged cam­era.

For a few ru­piah, visi­tors to Yo­gyakarta can snap pho­tos of them­selves in ready-made op­ti­cal il­lu­sions, or recre­ated scenes from his­tory and fan­tasy. If their selfie arms are still func­tion­ing, nearly 200 life-size fig­ures of his­tory’s most famous peo­ple await, ready to amuse Face­book friends and dis­tant rel­a­tives.

Darth Vader’s pop­u­lar; so is a one­time In­done­sia res­i­dent named Barack Obama. “We give you the best place to take your pict[sic],” the mu­seum boasts on its web­site.

But bow­ing to in­ter­na­tional out­rage, the mu­seum has re­moved one his­tor­i­cal wax fig­ure from its menagerie of self­ieready stat­ues: Adolf Hitler.

Par­tic­u­larly, a gal­lantly posed fuhrer stand­ing in front of a back­drop of the Auschwitz con­cen­tra­tion camp. The pic­ture, seen in an un­count­able num­ber of selfies with De MATA’s grin­ning visi­tors, con­tains the in­fa­mous sign above the camp’s front gate: “Ar­beit Macht Frei” — “work sets you free.”

“Ev­ery­thing about it is wrong. It’s hard to find words for how con­temptible it is,” Rabbi Abra­ham Cooper, as­so­ci­ate dean of the Si­mon Wisen­thal Cen­ter, which cam­paigns against an­tiSemitism and Holo­caust de­nial, told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “The back­ground is dis­gust­ing. It mocks the vic­tims who went in and never came out.”

The out­raged claimed the photo of Hitler had no busi­ness next to in­fo­tain­ment de­pic­tions of Steve Jobs and a leather-clad Scar­lett Jo­hann­son. And, crit­ics said, the pic­tures that flooded peo­ple’s so­cial me­dia ac­counts were an in­sult to the 6 mil­lion Jews who died in Hitler’s ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps.

Warli, the mu­seum's mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, who goes by one name, de­fended the wax­work to the As­so­ci­ated Press. He said he knew Hitler was a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure re­spon­si­ble for mass mur­der. But since his statue went on dis­play in 2014, the work was “one of the fa­vorite fig­ures for our visi­tors to take selfies with.”

“No visi­tors com­plained about it,” he said. “Most of our visi­tors are hav­ing fun be­cause they know this is just an en­ter­tain­ment mu­seum.”

The “just en­ter­tain­ment” as­pect of sim­i­lar de­pic­tions of Hitler and his Nazi regime is some­thing that has vexed his­to­ri­ans and ac­tivists for years. Some worry that dis­tanc­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures from their atroc­i­ties — es­sen­tially turn­ing them into car­i­ca­tures and car­toon char­ac­ters — is the first step to­ward re­peat­ing the mis­takes of the past.

In a Q&A with the Con­necti­cut Jewish Ledger, Gavriel Rosen­feld, the au­thor of “Hi Hitler!” warned that sim­i­lar Hitler- and Nazi-based dis­plays nor­mal­ize the Nazi legacy.

So-called Nazi-nor­mal­iza­tion has sparked an out­cry be­fore in In­done­sia, which has the largest Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion in the world and a tiny Jewish pop­u­la­tion.

A Nazi-themed cafe in the city of Ban­dung, where wait­ers wore replica SS uni­forms, caused anger abroad for sev­eral years un­til re­port­edly clos­ing its doors at the be­gin­ning of this year.

It was called the Sol­datenkaffe, named af­ter a restau­rant in Paris that was pop­u­lar with oc­cu­py­ing Nazi sol­diers. Hitler por­traits and Nazi flags adorned the walls of the In­done­sian restau­rant.

The cafe’s owner, Henry Mulyana, in­sisted to the Daily Mail that he wasn’t a neo-Nazi and said on the cafe’s web­site that it ex­plored “Hitler & the Nazis as pop cul­ture.”

Even in De MATA’s case, the owner told the As­so­ci­ated Press they weren’t get­ting rid of the statue be­cause of in­ter­nal­ized sen­ti­ment that it was in poor taste, but be­cause of the out­cry.

“We will fol­low the best ad­vice and the re­sponse from the pub­lic,” Warli said. “Let peo­ple judge whether the char­ac­ter is good or bad.”

SLAMET RIYADI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The De MATA mu­seum in Yo­gyakarta, In­done­sia, has said it will re­move its wax fig­ure of Adolf Hitler af­ter pic­tures of guests pos­ing next to it be­gan draw­ing in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

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