Controversy builds over German rappers accused of anti-Semitism

Farid Bang and Kollegah’s win Echo Music award despite complaints from Holocaust survivors over offensive Auschwitz verse

German rappers Kollegah & Farid Bang perform during the 2018 Echo Music Awards ceremony on April 12, 2018, in Berlin (AFP PHOTO / AXEL SCHMIDT)
German rappers Kollegah & Farid Bang perform during the 2018 Echo Music Awards ceremony on April 12, 2018, in Berlin (AFP PHOTO / AXEL SCHMIDT)

Outrage has grown in Germany after a rap duo accused of anti-Semitism over lyrics comparing themselves to Auschwitz prisoners was awarded a music prize on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

German rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang reference the Nazi death camp in their song “0815”, saying their bodies are “more defined than an Auschwitz prisoner.”

Despite the controversy that followed, on Thursday they won the Echo Music Award’s Hip-Hop/Urban prize after selling more than 200,000 copies of their album “Young, Brutal and Handsome 3.”

Also on Thursday, Israel marked Yom HaShoah, its Holocaust Remembrance Day, dedicated to the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Both rappers have said they reject all anti-Semitism, and Kollegah has offered free “lifetime” tickets to the duo’s Jewish fans.

But the lyrics have sparked a heated debate in Germany, which is still haunted by lingering memories of Nazi crimes.

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said such “anti-Semitic provocations” were “simply repugnant.”

“It is shameful that this prize was awarded on Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he said.

Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress group, told the Bild newspaper: “In Germany, you now get rewarded for despising women, glorifying violence and mocking Auschwitz victims?”

A spokesman for Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial told Bild that “the use of terminology or images out of their historical context is memory-based violence.”

“That musical industry officials reward such comments under the cover of art and freedom of expression is scandalous,” said Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Before the rappers won the Echo prize, the International Auschwitz Committee said their presence at the awards ceremony was a “slap in the face for Holocaust survivors.”

Christoph Heubner of the International Auschwitz Committee, formed by survivors of the concentration camp to combat anti-Semitism, called the line “heartless” and a “cheap provocation.”

Esther Bejarano, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor, with hip hop band Microphone Mafia in Germany. (Screen capture)

“They obviously don’t know much about Auschwitz,” said Esther Bejarano, 93, one of the last surviving members of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz, who still performs to this day with rap group Microphone Mafia.

“It is disrespectful to those who were murdered,” she said, according to Israel’s Channel 10 news.

Kollegah, 33, whose real name is Felix Blume, has been accused of anti-Semitism in the past after he traveled to the West Bank in 2016 and posting a documentary on his YouTube page. He holds staunchly pro-Palestinian views, slammed Israel repeatedly during his tour and visited the grave of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

He has collaborated and performed in recent years with 31-year-old Farid Bang, and the two released a joint album in 2009.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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