Exile , Dim Sampaio. Visuals for the performance created by artist Dim Sampaio.

Exile, Dim Sampaio. Visuals for the performance created by artist Dim Sampaio.

Auschwitz on the Beach
— Curator Felice Moramarco in conversation with Franco "Bifo" Berardi on becoming the target of harsh criticism that prompted the decision to cancel his performance at Documenta 14

Auschwitz on the Beach (2017), by the theorist and activist Franco “Bifo” Berardi, musician Stefano Berardi and visual artist Dim Sampaio, scheduled to take place on August 24th, at Documenta 14, in Kassel, Germany, aimed at comparing the current Refugee Crisis with the Holocaust. Facing adverse reaction prompted Franco Berardi on the decision to cancel the whole performance, replacing it with a public debate entitled Shame on Us.

A heated altercation was held between politicians, journalists and members of Jewish organizations where Franco Berardi was accused of relativizing the tragedy of the Holocaust. The German Ministry of Culture, [Boris Rhein][1], the mayor of Kassel, [Christian Geselle][2], intervened and asked the Kassel Court to not let the performance happen. However, people like [Philippe Ruch][3], from the Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (ZPS) – Centre for Political Beauty -, argued instead that the comparison between the Nazi lagers and the concentration camps, built on the costs of Lybia, could be appropriate. These have been in fact also built with the rest of Europe’s approval.

Felice Moramarco: Could you imagine that the announcement of a performance titled ‘Auschwitz on the Beach’ would have set off such an immediate and severe response?

Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi: We Europeans are repeating what the Nazis did in the 40’s. Someone could say this is an exaggeration. Of course, it is an exaggeration! However, we should bear in mind that we have killed so far at least thirty thousand migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. And we don’t know how many migrants we have killed in the Sahara Desert, or how many migrants are buried in the Libyan mass graves. This is what we wanted to denounce.

Moramarco: It is common knowledge that Nazism and the Holocaust are still an open wound in Germany.

Berardi: I’m disposed to listen to this objection if it comes from members of the Jewish community, which in fact I met and discussed with. But I’m not disposed to listen to this objection if it comes from some little shit that writes on the newspapers of the “Great Germany”. The German Nazis, which have never disappeared, have inflicted that wound to humanity. My father was imprisoned for seven months in a German camp during the World War Two, so I do not accept that a piece of shit like Mr Jens Jessen on the Zeit, who writes about it being an open wound, because people like him inflicted that specific wound to people like my father.

Moramarco: Why did you cancel the performance then?

Berardi: We cancelled it because we did not just want simply to make an art performance, we mainly wanted to send a message. After what happened, annulling the performance has allowed the message to spread one hundred times more than if it was kept as a real performance, trapped into the rhetoric of freedom of expression. I don’t give a shit about the freedom of expression I have when there is the life of millions of people at stake!

Moramarco: The only thing about the performance that has been made public was the title, right?

Berardi: Exactly.

Moramarco: And how do you explain that the two words, “Auschwitz” and “Beach”, juxtaposed have triggered such a heated debate?

Berardi: This happened because that expression has irritated the bigotry of the German neoliberal class. The bigotry of whom has repeated “no more Auschwitz” for many years and does not tolerate someone saying that Auschwitz is happening again in front of our eyes and with our complicity. Those bigots have published more than one hundred articles against my performance on German press. But it’s my job to provoke, I’ve always done it. For months - in the 1977 -, in the Italian newspapers, I was described as a criminal just because I spoke from a free radio, Radio Alice. At that time, I learnt that one must never fear people like them.

Moramarco: Don’t you think the people who have reacted in that specific way are aware of what is happening and simply do not want to face their responsibility?

Berardi: Indeed, they are! Something enormous is happening. We westerners are now facing the consequences of centuries of colonialism and fifteen years of uninterrupted war in the middle east, which we are completely responsible of. Now we have a debt and we do not want to pay it back.

We refuse to invest the huge amount of money needed to help refugees migrating from wars and misery that we have caused. Instead, we prefer to fund banks and the financial system. Well, this behaviour leads to the war. A war that has already started and that we will never be able to win, because we are dealing with an immense amount of desperate people. We will lose everything. We will lose the life of a lot of people, we will lose our democracy and the sense of humanity.

Moramarco: However, there have also been people supporting you, and Shame on Us has seen a remarkably large participation.

“Now we have a debt and we do not want to pay it back.”

Berardi: Yes, I have also received a lot of solidarity from all over the world. I’ve been supported by true internationalists. And many of these people are Jewish.

Moramarco: Is there still hope? According to what you wrote in your open resignation letter from [Diem25][4], it seems that Europe cannot be saved.

Berardi: Europe has been turned into a machine to transfer wealth from society to the financial system. Now it has turned into a machine of extermination. Nothing can be saved. Now it is too late, the war is already happening and cannot be stopped. Maybe only after this war when everything will be devastated, it will be possible to rebuild Europe. A Europe that sees the participation of all the Mediterranean peoples, of Turkey and the Middle East. Until then, I’m afraid there is very little that can be done.

[1]: http://www.hessenschau.de/kultur/documenta/auch-kunstminister-rhein-kritisiert-documenta-aktion,geselle-kritisiert-auschwitz-beach-100.html.
[2]: https://www.hna.de/kultur/documenta/ob-geselle-zu-auschwitz-aktion-documenta-ungeheuerliche-provokation-8609631.html.
[3]: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/debatte-ein-angriff-auf-die-freiheit-der-kunst-1.3642505
[4]: https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2017/07/08/bifo-i-am-no-longer-a-european-given-europes-daily-crimes-thus-i-resign-from-diem25-and-my-response/.