Israeli student steals artifacts from Auschwitz for art project

Memorial seeks to sue Rotem Bides, who admits to newspaper she took the objects… including a sign forbidding artifact theft

Detail of a Yedioth Ahronoth magazine cover showing student Rotem Bides, 27, and some of the artifacts she stole from Auschwitz (Times of Israel)
Detail of a Yedioth Ahronoth magazine cover showing student Rotem Bides, 27, and some of the artifacts she stole from Auschwitz (Times of Israel)

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum will reportedly file a criminal complaint against an Israeli granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who admitted to stealing historical objects from the death camp for an art project.

The decision by the museum came two days after the Yedioth Ahronoth daily published an interview with student Rotem Bides, 27, in which she admitted to stealing objects from Auschwitz for her senior project during six trips to the Nazi death camp in Poland.

“This is a painful and scandalous act. This is a protected site and proof of the tragedy of the Holocaust that needs to be preserved for future generations,” Yedioth on Wednesday quoted a spokesperson of the museum as saying.

In addition to the expected move by the museum, Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba, where Bides is an art student, said it will not display the artifacts that she stole from Auschwitz in the exhibition, which opens next week, and will hold a disciplinary hearing.

“I felt that that this was something I have to do,” she said in the interview published Monday. “Millions of people were murdered because of the moral laws of a particular country, under a particular regime. If these are the rules, I can come and act according to my rules.”

Bides, who said a number of her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, including one who survived Auschwitz, added, “I always felt that my raw material was in Poland and not Israel,” and said she had no regrets about taking the objects, which included glass shards, small soup bowls, a screw, and a sign saying that it is forbidden to remove objects from the museum. She also took water from a lake into which the ashes of murdered Jews were thrown.

A friend of Bides’s at Beit Berl told Yedioth that while “she is definitely worried” about the potential consequences of stealing from Auschwitz, where over 1 million Jews are estimated to have been murdered during the Holocaust, from “her perspective this is a sense of mission” and something she deals with in both her life and art.

“To display these objects here in Israel, in particular as the granddaughter of a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, is a continuation of her research. She put this under the title of art and is asking the tough questions,” the unnamed student said.

2014 Israel Prize winner Michal Na’aman, who instructed Bides on the project, described to Yedioth why her student’s art “interested her in such an unusual way.”

“What is interesting is that she is taking this to the most extreme place in which she feels the need to shock herself before she shocks others,” Na’aman said. “She is not manipulative in the uninteresting sense, in that she wants money, success or fame. I am of course referring to to the act of stealing from Auschwitz.”

The decision by Beit Berl to not display Bides’s work and call her to a disciplinary hearing marked a reversal for the college, after the dean of the art faculty, Gabi Klezmer, defended Bides on the grounds of freedom of expression.

“Every time a conflict arises, we return to the point in which the college is obligated to [defend] creative and cultural freedom, different opinions and views, the multiplicity of voices and pluralism,” he told Yedioth. “It is at once rich and complex.”

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