Controversy builds over German rappers accused of anti-Semitism

German rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang perform during the 2018 Echo Music Awards ceremony in Berlin on Thursday

Berlin (Germany) (AFP) – Outrage has grown in Germany after a rap duo accused of anti-Semitism over lyrics comparing themselves to Auschwitz prisoners was awarded a music prize on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

German rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang reference the Nazi death camp in their song “0815”, saying their bodies are “more defined than an Auschwitz prisoner”.

Despite the controversy which followed, on Thursday they won the Echo Music Award’s Hip-Hop/Urban prize after selling more than 200,000 copies of their album “Young, Brutal and Handsome 3”.

Also on Thursday, Israel marked Yom HaShoah, its Holocaust Remembrance Day, dedicated to the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Both rappers have said they reject all anti-Semitism, and Kollegah has offered free “lifetime” tickets to the duo’s Jewish fans.

But the lyrics have sparked a heated debate in Germany, which is still haunted by lingering memories of Nazi crimes.

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said such “anti-Semitic provocations” were “simply repugnant”. 

“It is shameful that this prize was awarded on Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress group, told the Bild newspaper: “In Germany, you now get rewarded for despising women, glorifying violence and mocking Auschwitz victims?” 

A spokesman for Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial told Bild that “the use of terminology or images out of their historical context is memory-based violence”.

“That musical industry officials reward such comments under the cover of art and freedom of expression is scandalous,” said Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.  

Before the rappers won the Echo prize, the International Auschwitz Committee said their presence at the awards ceremony was a “slap in the face for Holocaust survivors”.