European Retail Giant Withdraws Home Decorations Promoting Deadly Antisemitic Stereotypes From Polish Outlets
Europe’s largest DIY and home improvements retailer on Monday abruptly withdrew a range of home decorations being sold in its Polish outlets that played on antisemitic stereotypes, following an online protest over the sale of framed pictures showing Orthodox Jews counting gold coins.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the German-owned retail giant OBI said it would no longer be selling the offending portraits and related products at its 58 stores in Poland. “OBI condemns any antisemitic and racist manifestations,” the company said. “We decided that the products in this series will be withdrawn from our stores immediately.”
Pictures and mini-statues of Jews counting money are both popular and easily purchased in Poland. In a feature article on Tuesday about OBI’s decision, the Polish website Fakt24 observed that “the image of ‘the Jew and his money’ has taken root in Polish culture to such an extent that most of us have stopped paying attention to its negative connotations. On the contrary — it is treated as an amulet, which is hanged in the corridor to attract financial good fortune.”
Continued the article: “Although today it is associated rather positively, it originates from the antisemitic stereotype of the Jew as exploiter, bloodsucker and fraudster.”
OBI would likely not have taken its decision had it not been for a consumer protest sparked by Tomasz Sikora — a musician with the Polish avant-garde group “Karbido” and a well-known advocate for the Ukrainian minority in Poland.
While on a visit to OBI’s branch in the city of Wroclaw on Nov. 25, Sikora’s attention was caught by two similar paintings, both of which showed a lone Orthodox Jew with side-curls and traditional headgear carefully and precisely counting out his gold coins. With the mood description “feeling shocked,” Sikora uploaded a photo of the paintings to his Facebook page.
Alongside, he commented sarcastically: “Meanwhile, as if nothing has ever happened, here in OBI Polska we see a Jew with large amounts of money.”
Sikora’s post ended with the warning: “Playing with an ugly stereotype…”
The post caused a viral sensation in the Polish media, with many commenters insisting that images associating Jews with money were harmless, and that complaints about them were correspondingly overblown. Writing on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Sikora lamented that “many critics of the withdrawal of the ‘Jew with the coins’ have lost their sense of proportion and use false arguments.”
Meanwhile, one American Jewish leader who has spent several years campaigning against the sale of antisemitic folklore in Poland warmly welcomed OBI’s decision to withdraw the items from stores.
“I was very pleased to read that OBI has decided to remove the antisemitic dolls that are very popular in Poland, that ‘celebrate’ Jews and money,” Abraham Foxman — the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — told The Algemeiner in an email on Tuesday.
Foxman, who has seen the offensive images on sale at numerous locations on his many trips to Poland — including, in 2017, the gift shop inside the Polish parliament building — underscored that the deadly consequences that have historically flowed from the association of Jews with money and profiteering could not be sugarcoated for the sake of a souvenir.
“It’s an old antisemitic stereotype which has led to the killing of Jews throughout the centuries,” Foxman explained.
“We’ve seen it in our own time in France, with the murder of Ilan Halimi,” he said, referring to the young French Jew who, in 2006, was kidnapped, tortured and then murdered by an antisemitic gang who acted from the conviction that all Jews were wealthy and willing to pay ransom money.
“Hopefully, Polish commercial and cultural establishments will soon remove these items from their shelves,” Foxman said. “Poland needs to act against antisemitic symbols and not promote them.”
Noting that he had in the past “entreated Polish officials to legislate to remove these items, or at the very least to educate against this hatred, both to no avail,” Foxman suggested that the decision taken by OBI — after Home Depot and Lowe’s, the third-largest home improvements corporation in the world — could have a greater impact.
“Maybe this act by OBI will help,” he said.