New York – An advertisement which used a Holocaust theme to decry smartphone usage in the ultra-Orthodox community has drawn severe criticism from diverse sources, with supporters of Holocaust survivors and the vehemently anti-smartphone Satmar hassidic both issuing strong statements against its message.
In the ad, images of which have been uploaded to social media, a line of ambulances moves down a road and stops at a gate emblazoned with the corporate logos of Apple and Motorola. A barbed wire fence extends from both sides of the gate, while overhead a metal sign proclaims “Smartphone macht frei.”
The take on the German phrase arbeit macht frei (work will make you free) – which stood above the entrances to concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen – has a double meaning, as frei is also the Yiddish term for an irreligious person. Smartphones will make you abandon Judaism, the ad seems to be saying.
“The attached publication is not [an] official publication and is not in any literature from the school or community. This is being published by a loner who took upon himself to fight smartphones, and publishes very controversial and tasteless booklets,” said Rabbi Moshe Aaron Hoffman, a Satmar spokesman.
The ad in question was published by Kol Rabinovich, an independent organization that prints its own material and drops it off in local synagogues, Hoffman continued.
The proprietor of the organization is a “bit of a lunatic and people read [his material] just to have a good laugh.” However, “most synagogues” throw his material away as soon as it is dropped off, he continued.
“It’s not only offensive, it diminishes the work of the real community activists….no official Satmar publication prints his stuff.”
The insular hassidic sect recently made headlines when one of its flagship schools in the New York village of Kiryas Joel amended its admissions policy to exclude the children of women who own smartphones.
“Remember: We will not provide acceptance cards if you’re not in order with the technological rules,” the school’s administration advised in a letter to parents.
Despite several calls to its Yiddish language hotline, The Jerusalem Post was unable to reach Kol Rabinovich for comment.
Prominent Jews across the globe expressed shock at the use of such imagery.
“We are appalled when non-Jews use the Holocaust to promote something other than the Holocaust. It is no less appalling and wrong when Jews do it. This is outrageous and wrong. Insensitive and hurtful,” said Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.
“This ad is in truly execrable taste,” said Menachem Rosensaft, a prominent survivors advocate who teaches genocide law at Columbia University and both of whose parents were imprisoned in Auschwitz.
“There seems to be no limit to the appalling capacity of some perverse individuals, clearly in this instance including Jews, to desecrate and profane Shoah imagery and, more importantly, Shoah memory. This ad is truly the functional moral equivalent of pornography. ‘Arbeit macht frei’ – ‘Work makes free’ – was the Nazi welcome inscribed over the entryway to Auschwitz. For anyone to so callously trivialize and exploit all the horrors and suffering this image epitomizes crosses every possible line of decency.”
Colette Avital, the head of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, termed the ad “vulgar, tasteless, cheap and reprehensible” and called for Jewish communities abroad to combat such rhetoric as strongly as they combat anti-Semitism.
“I looked and looked again and could not believe that ultra-Orthodox people should be so insensitive and use imagery connected to the concentration camps. Meaning what? That the use of smartphones would annihilate Jews like the Nazis did?” The Simon Wiesenthal Center also panned the ad, calling it “yet another example of the misuse of Holocaust imagery or symbols for various causes, none of whose relevance approaches that of the Holocaust.”
“The objectionable use of the gates of Auschwitz to protest against smart phones is a reflection of the lack of respect for the Shoa of the sponsors of this ad and on the other hand, their obvious perception of the potency of Holocaust imagery among their target audience,” said Efraim Zuroff, the head of the SWC’s Jerusalem office.