Maurizio Cattelan’s Lil Hitler Sculpture in Warsaw Ghetto Is an “Affront to Any Jew” But Not Really

January 2, 2013 | Marina Galperina

So, there’s a bit of fuss over semi-retired Italian prankster-artist Maurizio Cattelan’s HIM… again. The 2001 sculpture of Adolf Hitler was recently installed in a former Warsaw ghetto alley. It can only be viewed through a small peephole in a rotting gate, looking like a small praying boy.

Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich approved the installation for its “educational value,” but according to Messianic Jewish ministry leader Jan Markell — the latest voice of Lil Hitler outrage — the rabbi “probably is a self-hating Jew.” Why? “This is a terrible affront to any Jew that I know of.” Jan? MEET MORE JEWS!

There’s a repeating motif in the criticism of “the senseless provocation,” to the tune of “If this man ever prayed, he would be praying to the Prince of Darkness” and “As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler’s only ‘prayer’ was that they be wiped off the face of the earth.” Um, but like, um, no?

Granted, the installation’s location is meant to provoke, but it’s not malicious, it’s ballsy.

“There is no intention from the side of the artist or the centrer to insult Jewish memory,” the Centre for Contemporary Art’s director Fabio Cavallucci said. “It’s an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere… Every criminal was once a tender, innocent and defenseless child.” Scanning Polish online media, that seems to be the most common reaction from the visiting Polish public: No one could tell it’s Hitler until they were told. Some blindly interpreted the figure as a pathetic little boy who wants to be like other boys but cannot. When they were showed the front close-up, many were indeed uncomfortable, some projected an apologetic presence, some tuned into the “deceptively hidden evil” vibes, but overall, the interviewees reacted to it critically and calmly. Outrage is a media game.

Personally, seeing the egomaniac trapped in a Warsaw ghetto alley, at the very site of his regime’s crimes, looked upon as a pathetic little kid, is very gratifying — a very different effect than of HIM hanging, ridiculously strung up in a bundle with the other pieces at Cattelan’s Guggenheim retrospective.

“When people see this piece, they react with gasps, tears, disbelief. The impact is stunning,” a collector and Holocaust survivor Stefan Edlis once said in 2009. “That is how you judge art.”

Let my people have a sense of perspective.