OSWIECIM, Poland -- A Polish court has convicted the son of a prominent Belarusian human rights activist and 11 other people on charges of desecrating the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp memorial by staging a nude performance art protest that involved slaughtering a lamb at the camp’s infamous main gate.
Adam Byalyatski, the son of activist and Belarusian opposition figure Ales Byalyatski, was convicted as one of two organizers of the March 24, 2017 action – which he described as “an antiwar protest.” The court on January 17 sentenced him to 18 months in prison.
Belarusian co-organizer Mikita Valadzko was sentenced to 14 months in prison by the court in Oswiecim, the Polish town where Nazi Germany operated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps during World War II.
The court also sentenced 10 other people to one year of community service for taking part in the nude demonstration (shown below in a tweet). They included two Belarusians, a Ukrainian, a German, and six Poles.
Byalyatski and Valadzko, who are both theater students at universities in Poland, also were fined about $600 each for publicly slaughtering an animal.
Byalyatski and Valadzko slaughtered a lamb beneath the sign on Auschwitz’s infamous main gate that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” – “Work Sets You Free.”
They also hung a banner containing the word “Love” over the gate, temporarily changing the sign’s cynical message to “Love Macht Frei” – “Love Sets You Free.”
All 12 people in the group then took their clothes off, handcuffed themselves to each other, and sat down naked -- directly below the sign -- on the path that had been walked by newly arriving prisoners at Auschwitz.
Valadzko told RFE/RL that the purpose of the group's “Love Macht Frei performance” was “to draw attention to the fact that people have not learned anything from what happened at Auschwitz.”
“We have not been properly taught that killing is bad, and people continue to kill,” Valadzko said.
Valadzko also insisted that the demonstration was not meant to insult the memory of more than 1 million Jews who were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camps.
“I am a Jew myself,” Valadzko said. “My relatives died in the Holocaust.”
But the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum said in a statement that the use of Auschwitz for any “demonstrations or happenings” deserves punishment as “blatant desecration” of the memory of Nazi concentration and extermination camp victims.
Byalyatski is the son of Ales Byalyatski, a former political prisoner in Belarus who heads the Viasna Human Rights Center and founded the opposition Belarusian Popular Front party.
When questioned by RFE/RL about the case against his son, Byalyatski declined comment.