Exhibit compares animal treatment nazis
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Exhibit comparing Holocaust, animals decried
By Donovan Slack, Globe Correspondent, 5/21/2003
Jewish groups yesterday angrily denounced a controversial animal rights campaign that compares the slaughter of animals for food to the Holocaust, calling an exhibit with photographs of emaciated Nazi death camp prisoners a ''horrific'' publicity stunt.
Gathered at the New England Holocaust Memorial -- less than a block from City Hall Plaza, where People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals erected a display of billboard photographs -- Jewish leaders took turns at a lectern, some of them recounting images of friends or family in camps.
''This outrageous campaign trivializes the memory of millions of innocent victims of the Holocaust and insults those who survived,'' said Geoffrey H. Lewis, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.
PETA's exhibit, which made its way to Boston yesterday after evoking similar reactions in 22 other cities, consists of several 6-by-10-foot billboards depicting pictures of Holocaust victims next to photos of masses of chickens and turkeys in warehouses.
Known for radical stances and shock campaigns, PETA leaders yesterday were unapologetic. The images may be ''uncomfortable,'' said 21-year-old PETA organizer and campaign creator Matt Prescott, but ''we need to get past our grief and begin to use it to teach lessons.''
''We need to use it as a context for teaching lessons of compassion and kindness,'' he said.
On the plaza, Prescott and two other PETA employees stood by the billboards set up next to the Government Center T stop and handed out fliers to anyone who would take them.
A few enthusiastically took pamphlets. But passersby largely reacted negatively. ''I don't take things from insane people,'' snapped one man as he scurried into the station.
''This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen!'' exclaimed Mark Vespucci, a federal employee on his lunch break, visibly flustered. ''I understand why you're doing this, but I think it's demoralizing.''
Prescott tried to appeal to him. ''I'm Jewish,'' Prescott said, adding that his mother's second cousins perished in Buchenwald. After a few minutes listening to Prescott talk about the treatment of anmals, Vespucci turned and angrily walked away.
''Do they really need to do that?'' Vespucci said later of the exhibit. ''That's a really bad analogy to draw.''
Jews who reacted to the exhibit yesterday said the comparison strikes deep, in part because the Nazis compared Jews to animals. After standing by the Holocaust Memorial, saying it is a ''horrible thing to compare the suffering and extermination of millions of people to animals,'' Marianne Kronenberg walked quietly down the street and around the billboards of animals emblazoned with titles: ''Mass Murder,'' ''Walking Skeletons,'' and ''The Final Indignity.''
As a girl in Bucharest, Romania, Kronenberg lived in ''protected housing'' during the Holocaust, but she said daily raids by the Nazis meant that many of her friends, neighbors, and family members were taken away to die.
''I'm appalled,'' she muttered under her breath.
The exhibit garnered similar attention and dismay in cities across the United States since it debuted in Berkeley, Calif., in February. Prescott said one Arizona State University student ripped down a billboard and shoved one of the organizers.
Officials from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which initially gave Prescott permission to use its Holocaust images for a ''project comparing the atrocities of the Holocaust to other forms of oppression throughout history,'' said yesterday they were considering taking legal action against PETA.
''Prescott was not honest with us about how he would be using the images. He did not say that it had anything to do with animals,'' said Arthur Berger, director of communications for the museum, whose archives contain about 70,000 pictures. ''We would not have given permission for that.''
Berger said the museum demanded that PETA stop using the photos, but the organization said it would continue its traveling exhibit indefinitely.
''It's an outrage,'' Berger said. ''There are a lot of survivors that are being deeply hurt.''
Jewish leaders said they recognize that PETA -- whose past campaigns have included splashing red liquid on runway models wearing furs, and promoting beer-drinking over milk consumption to college students -- means to shock.
''Being outrageous is part of their strategy,'' said Rob Leikind, executive director of the New England Anti-Defamation League. ''But we're convinced this is not going to be an effective strategy.''
Dachau survivor Stephan Ross, father of Boston City Councilor Michael Ross, stood yesterday with his son next to the Holocaust Memorial he founded, adamantly decrying PETA's ''dilution'' of his and others' experiences in the camps.
''My family was gassed and burned,'' he said. ''How can they? How can they compare? We must not allow this to continue.''
Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 5/21/2003.
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