Holocaust Memories Scar Polish Visitors to the Bodies Exhibit

Since its inception in 2005, "Bodies...The Exhibition" has been steeped in controversy. The show features cadavers cut open and preserved, with the details of human anatomy there for all to see. Now the exhibit has traveled to Poland and with it a whole new set of problems.


Besides the "yuck" factor for those who a little squeamish in the tummy, the Bodies show also caused a furor as it crisscrossed the U.S. after an investigation suggested that the people had display were imported illegally, or never consented to become a museum exhibit in death.

In Poland, the problem is related to the Holocaust. Back then, the vile perpetrators of Hitler's genocide used victims of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland to make products, including lampshades. "The human being is sacred... A 'beautiful' lamp made of human skin in Auschwitz is the riposte to the question of where the human being ends and where art begins," Polish government official Jan Orgelbrand told Reuters.

It's unfortunate if "Bodies" brings back any horrific memories of the Holocaust during its stop in Poland. But at the same time, suggesting the operators are similar to Nazis because Nazis put human beings on display is a comparison that doesn't fly. The hyperbolic comparison of everything we don't like to Hitler or the Nazis is a trend that needs to stop.

And history shows that trying to censor that human body, or suggest that it is not "artistic," is a road to nowhere. The real ethical question over "Bodies" shouldn't be taste, but whether the origin of the specimens is legitimate. The exhibit's Web site said the bodies were Chinese cadavers donated to medical centers after going unclaimed, but there's no reason to believe they would have wanted to go on display after death—in Poland or elsewhere.

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