Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holocaust LEGO

In 1996 Polish artist Zbigniew Libera designed seven fake LEGO sets depicting scenes of Nazi Concentration Camps.

These were designed as sets, with faux box art. There was a bit of a controversy in that he put the LEGO logo on the box and said they were sponsored by LEGO. LEGO initially donated him the bricks (which, c'mon, would have cost maybe a couple hundred at the most on Bricklink), but later objected when they saw the product and unsuccessfully sued to get the sets removed. To me this seems a bit disingenuous of them - he was, as far as I can tell, he was already known at this time for taking toys and making them into bizarre or outrageous works (e.g. a baby doll that was partially dissected, etc).

Anyway, Libera made three copies of this, which were sold to collectors. They've been shown at various museums in the interim, always evoking lots of discussion, both pro and anti (see, for instance, this commentary. One of the three installments of seven sets was recently purchased by the Warsaw Museum of Modern art from a private collector for 55000 Euros (~US$71000). By the way, this does raise for me the question of what makes a MOC into Art. As a LEGO creation this is pretty low level stuff - just look around Brickshelf and Flickr and you'll see much better building. I've certainly seen AFOLs build MOCs based on similarly shocking or moving subject matter, including things like waterboarding, the torture of the Falun Gong, and even other Holocaust depictions. Why aren't we in the AFOL community selling our work for tens of thousands of dollars? Oh well, a discussion for another forum. Someone (and I promise this time, it's not me, I just don't have the expertise) really should start an ArtBricks blog.

While the Nazi regime impacted all of Europe, of course their particular evil was focused on Jews, with six million killed. Jewish life today is still impacted by the Holocaust, and Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance, is treated as a holy day in Jewish communities around the world, with prayers said in remembrance of those killed. By the way, I'd highly recommend Michael Goldberg's Why Should Jews Survive?: Looking Past the Holocaust Toward a Jewish Future, in which he argues that remembrance of the Holocaust has become too great a definer of Jewish culture today, and he argues for a return to a deeper purpose, dating back to the covenant at Sinai.

This LEGO creation is one that I've gone back and forth on with regards to this blog. Every so often someone comes across this and posts it to some LEGO forum, where it ignites a debate. Some find this work completely appalling, and say it should be shunned. Personally I think it really works as art in that it starts a conversation. Rather than trivializing the subject, I think showing this in the innocence of a toy emphasizes the horror of the Holocaust. You could also take away messages about how we market violence and war to young boys, or how corporations become complicit in governmental evil. So while I've hesitated to blog this work before, I'm glad that it came up in the news again to remind me to post it.


  1. My sense of this is that the piece's power comes from the concept of marketing terror. That is, putting it in Legoish boxes as if a real, sellable toy. In this respect, I do think it has value as a piece. Indeed, the Nazi party did introduce board games and toys that spread racial and political messages.

    Germany was and is a civilized, rational, industrial nation. The scariest thing is that this was a nation that allowed the message of fear and hatred to grab a hold of it.

    This piece, without the toy boxes, is just a poorly constructed, rather dull moc that does not really communicate the terror of the events. You get no sense of the scale or magnitude of the situation. It might as well be one of our (USA's) own torture camps – which is scary enough – but not at the level of this historical ethnic cleansing.

  2. What sort of arse does this???