November 16, 2018

WeHo display equates Putin to Hitler, disturbs survivors

Since Monday, Feb. 3, the storefront window at LA Jock’s on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood has displayed a mannequin wearing a striped concentration camp-style uniform adorned with an inverted pink triangle – the symbol used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals.

The display is the design of the store’s owner, Israeli-born Nir Zilberman, who set up the mannequin holding a sign equating Russian president Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay policies to Adolf Hitler’s.

Beneath drawings of Putin, Hitler, and images of gay rights rallies in Russia, the mannequin’s sign reads: “Love. No More Hate. Give Hope.”

Zilberman said by phone on Thursday that his goal is to raise awareness of the treatment of gays in Russia.

“When I look at the images of what’s happening to the Russian men, it actually reminds me of how the Holocaust started,” Zilberman said.

But not everyone interprets the display that way. Rabbi Denise Eger, whose synagogue Kol Ami is in West Hollywood and has many gay congregants, said she spoke at length with Zilberman about the mannequin, and she believes that he’s motivated in part to draw more attention and traffic to his store.

Zilberman disputes that assertion.

“There are plenty of ways for all of us, together, to draw attention to what’s happening to the LGBT community in Russia, with Putin’s new, horrific policy, without commercializing the Shoah,” Eger said in an interview.

While homosexuality remains legal in Russia, in June Putin approved a law that had passed the Russian Duma 436-0, banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors, a vague standard that includes the distribution of gay rights material.

According to Marc Bennetts, a Moscow-based British journalist writing for The Guardian, to date no one has been jailed for violating the law and “fewer than a dozen people have been fined for ‘gay propaganda.’”

But gay rights activists say the law has fueled anti-gay groups in Russia, who, in recent months, have been filmed harassing and attacking homosexuals in public.        

Zilberman, the son of Holocaust survivors, said he’s “sorry that a lot of Russian Jews got offended” by the display, but he does not regret his decision to put it up.

“I’m not ashamed of what I did. I’m proud of what I did,” Zilberman said. “I know where I’m coming from. My heart is all about love.”

Reactions from passersby on Thursday morning were mixed, with some people supporting the imagery, others opposed and some not understanding Zilberman’s message.

On first glance, Gary Gorman said he supported the message of love over hate. Once he understood what the mannequin was wearing, though, he had a change of heart.

“That’s horrible to do that,” Gorman said.

Aaron Blackburn, who was waiting for a bus, said he supports Zilberman’s provocative display. “Sometimes people do need to be clocked over the head a little bit to get their attention,” Blackburn said.

Josh Johnson, who was visiting from Palm Springs, did not initially recognize the identifying pink triangle or the connection to Russia.

“I guess it’s trying to say that man may be on the wrong path but ultimately there’s hope for mankind,” Johnson suggested. “I don’t know.”