ADL Investigates ‘Deeply Offensive’ Auschwitz-Themed Barbie Death Camp at Burning Man
The Anti-Defamation League is investigating a disturbing macabre art display inspired by the Auschwitz concentration camp that was seen at the week-long Burning Man event, which ended on Tuesday.
In the display at Burning Man, held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, nude Barbie dolls appeared to be herded into three full-size kitchen ovens while others were “crucified” on bright pink crosses, according to photos sent to The Jewish News of Northern California. Another image showed toy soldiers with semi-automatic rifles “marching” the Barbies from behind.
The display was part of a stand at Burning Man called the Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro, presented by “Auschwitz Inc.” and “The Mattel Co,” which were described as “purveyors of fine lampshades and soap products since 1939,” according to a banner shown in one picture.
The banner also proclaimed the Barbie Death Camp was “the friendliest concentration camp” at Burning Man while another sign read “Arbeit macht plastik frei,” a reference to the words on the entrance gate at the Auschwitz concentration camp that infamously said, “Work makes you free.”
The Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro featured “the sickest bastards on the Playa” and invited people to “come by and be offended 24/7,” according to its listing on the official Burning Man website.
Some attendees sent photos of the display to the ADL and its San Francisco-based office is investigating the diorama. Seth Brysk, the ADL’s regional director, said, “We have received a number of complaints. Certainly individuals have a right to free expression. But using that free expression to trivialize the Holocaust for the sake of political, social or artistic ends is still deeply offensive and inappropriate. And we would ask people not to do so.”
“It tarnishes the memories of those who died, including the 6 million Jews and 5 million others,” Brysk added. “Particularly in the current environment, where we have a confluence of survivors no longer around to tell their stories, and increased extremism and hatred, we think it’s more important than ever to preserve and respect the memory of the Holocaust.”
One Burning Man attendee who was shocked by the display said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so offensive.”
Barbie Death Camp was a part of the “Barbie Death Village,” a Burning Man campsite. Tickets to stay in the village cost between $100 and $200 on top of the $425 entry fee to Burning Man. About 220 people camped there this year, according to James Jacoby, who created the display.
Jacoby, who is Jewish, said he had set up the same diorama at Burning Man for 20 years and that it originally started out small with “just 11 miserable Barbies stuffed into an Easy-Bake Oven.”
Commenting on the diorama’s offensiveness, he said, “We certainly don’t want to trigger anybody. But Burning Man is not a safe space. It’s not Yale University. You don’t get to run and hide from something you don’t like. There’s 1,100 theme camps. If you don’t like ours, go to another one.”
“It’s a chance to meet people and have a friendly conversation,” he said of the concentration camp-themed display, to which Burning Man attendees often bring their own Barbie dolls. “A couple of guys have gotten laid because women come and stop. It’s a rather sexually charged atmosphere. You get a chance to engage people.”
Jacoby was called a “Nazi white supremacist” by some attendees this year and he said on Aug. 31, protesters “began to smash our property” and threaten him. During the uproar someone from the Barbie Death Camp smashed one of the protesters’ car taillights with a mallet and was arrested and subsequently charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.