When Germany took over Poland, its government imprisoned the entire Jewish population of the city--about 30 percent of residents--inside a 1.3 square mile area of Warsaw that became known as the Warsaw Ghetto.
Adolf Hitler was the devil himself, and now an artist has outraged Jewish and Catholic groups by placing a statue of the Fuhrer smack in the middle of the former ghetto.
The statue, called HIM is part of the Amen art installation by Mauizo Cattelan at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, and has Hitler on his knees, hands clasped in prayer. It is the only part of the exhibition not displayed inside the museum, elsewhere in Warsaw.
"As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler's only 'prayer' was that they be wiped off the face of the earth," said Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Weisenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization. He called the statue's placement "a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis' Jewish victims."
The museum site describes the exhibition as an exploration "about the modern understanding of death, sacrifice, forgiveness, the origin of evil in man, national identity and historical memory."
"Ravaged by the disasters of the twentieth century, Maurizio Cattelan's Warsaw works take on a special dimension--become an artistic commentary on the Catholic creed: What does it mean to love your enemies? What does it mean to forgive those who trespass against guilt? Evoking trauma history, Cattelan's art is a difficult challenge for the identity of Poles: to what extent is our national memory is a form of forgetting? To what extent do we not want to remember?"
A few days after the HItler statue was installed, according to the Jerusalem Post, someone covered its face in an attempt to obscure its identity. The museum's management has placed 24-hour security around the statue.
Cattelan is known for his provocative artworks, particularly a 1999 work, La Nona Ora ("The Ninth Hour"), showing Pope John Paul II being struck down by a meteor.
More than 400,000 Jews from Warsaw were herded by the German governor occupying Poland at the start of World War II into an area less than 1.5 miles square, and kept there for more than three years.
The Ghetto was surrounded by a 9-foot-tall wall, topped with barbed wire, that shut its inhabitants out of the world. Escapees were shot on site.
At least 250,000 people from the Ghetto sent to Treblinka extermination camp in 1942, and at least 50,000 more died during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, when fighters tried to expel German forces who had entered intent on deporting them to concentration camps, and the subsequent razing of the Ghetto in 1943.