A Polish artist filmed a group of fully naked men and women playing tag inside the gas chamber of a former Nazi death camp. And yes, you read that right.
Now, groups representing Israeli Holocaust survivors are calling on Polish President Andrzej Duda, an independent, to explain how, exactly, that was allowed to happen and to condemn the movie.
The four-minute video — called “The Game of Tag” — was filmed inside the Stutthof death camp near Gdansk, Poland. As the film opens, a half-dozen completely naked men and women walk slowly into one of the camp’s stone gas chambers. They appear cold, and wary, until they begin to laugh and shout. They chase each other down hallways and into closed spaces and giggle, slapping at each other. They are clearly having fun. It is deeply unsettling.
The film was controversial when it was exhibited two years ago, but the concentration camp itself wasn’t identified until Wednesday. An Israeli lawyer and Holocaust historians compared footage in the film to videos taken when Prince William of England visited Stutthof in July of this year.
65,000 people, including 29,000 Jews, were murdered in Stutthof, which was built by Nazis in 1939.
Several organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, have filed a letter of complaint to Polish government officials.
The film was meant to inspire controversy
The artist, Artur Żmijewski, never denied he shot the film in a concentration camp.
Żmijewski’s statement accompanying the film’s online display reads, “Just as it was back then: naked people in a gas chamber. But instead of horror, we have giggles, toys, erotic games, innocent frolics. What a relief!"
The game of tag (also the name of the film) was filmed in 1999, and originally displayed in 2015 at the Krakow Museum of Contemporary Art in an exhibition called Poland-Israel-Germany the Experience of Auschwitz. It caused a ruckus then as well. The World Jewish Congress and Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, asked for the film to be stripped from the museum’s display.
Instead, the Krakow museum decided to simply provide more context for the film. Anna Maria Potocka, the museum’s director, told the press at the time the film wasn’t mean to dishonor the dead but merely meant to “to awaken [the] young generation’s empathy with the tragedy of the Holocaust by stirring their imagination.”
It was also, briefly, displayed at an exhibit in Estonia — but it was removed after the Simon Wiesenthal Center asked for it to be taken down.
The film — which is both graphic and uniquely horrifying in its frivolity — can still be viewed on the website of Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art.