TEL AVIV – A teacher at a Catholic high school in Belgium won an award and cash prize for Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest, receiving praise from her colleagues who said they were proud of her.
Luc Descheemaeker from the Sint-Jozefs Institute high school in the city of Torhout was awarded a “special prize” at the Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest in Tehran in May for a cartoon of the words “Arbeit macht frei” over a wall with guard posts — ostensibly likening Israel’s security fence to the gates at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The sentence, which means “work sets you free” in German, is emblazoned on the main gate to the Nazi death camp in Poland. Descheemaeker won $1,000 for the cartoon. The first-prize winning entry was a drawing of a cash register shaped like Auschwitz.
Citing the Belgian-Jewish publication Ragards, JTA said that a journalist from the newspaper had sent the school an email in May with a URL link to a webpage announcing the winners of the contest, accompanied with the text: “It must be a great pride for Sint-Jozefs Institute-College to be associated to the values Luc Descheemaeker stands for.”
Martine De Zutter, a senior faculty member, sent the following reply: “We are indeed very proud to have Luc associated with our school. His talent is of great value for the artistic education of our students!”
School Director Paul Vanthournout on Wednesday told JTA that the school was proud of Descheemaeker’s work within the institution, where he taught plastic arts and cultural sciences. He has put on educational plays about the Holocaust at school, Vanthournout said.
The report said that in 2002, Descheemaeker was awarded a royal distinction from Belgium’s Queen Paola for producing a play about the Holocaust for children, an adaptation of Art Spiegelman’s award-winning graphic memoir “Maus.”
“I understand you find criticism on Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza unpleasant,” he wrote to JTA, “but your consideration of it as anti-Semitic is exaggerated.”
Vanthournout said the school’s stance is that the Holocaust, which “featured atrocities of hitherto unseen proportions,” cannot be compared or likened to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. But the Holocaust, he added, “cannot serve as an alibi to solving conflicts with violence.”
Descheemaeker, who is retiring from the school this year, accepted an offer to travel to Tehran to be a judge at next year’s Holocaust competition in Tehran, the school’s newsletter said.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said the contest can “be used as a platform for Holocaust denial and revisionism and egregiously anti-Semitic speech, as it has in the past.”
In May, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum noted that the organizations behind the contest “are sponsored or supported by government entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance,” and demanded that the Iranian government disavow the contest.
UNESCO has condemned the cartoon contest as being a “mockery of the genocide of the Jewish people, a tragic page of humanity’s history.”