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Jerzy Szumczyk’s “Komm, Frau” installed at night next to the Soviet tank memorial (image courtesy the artist, via spiegel.de)

A Polish art student illegally installed his sculpture of a man raping a woman in the Polish town of Gdansk, causing quite an international controversy.

Jerzy Szumczyk, a student at the Gdansk Fine Arts Academy, put up the street art sculpture last Saturday night, Der Spiegel reports. Titled “Komm, Frau” — German for “Come, woman” — it depicts a Red Army soldier overtaking a pregnant woman. (The choice of German for a title that assumes a Russian point of view is odd.) He kneels between her legs and pulls her hair with his left hand; in his right, he points a gun into her mouth. The graphic sculpture is life-size and made from concrete, which means Szumczyk must have had a hell of a time — and some help — putting it up. But it stood in public only briefly, alongside a Soviet tank that serves as a Communist-era memorial to the Russian liberation of the city from the Nazis; police removed the statue within hours, after a woman called the police, according to Agence France-Presse.

Jerzy Szumczyk, “Komm, Frau” (courtesy the artist, via rawstory.com) (click to enlarge)

The 26-year-old Szumczyk explained to the Moscow Times that, after reading about the mass rapes committed by Soviet soldiers during the liberation of Poland, he “was unable to cope” with the information. (Estimates are hard to come by, but some say up to 100,000 Polish women were raped, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of German women who were raped by Soviet soldiers, too.) “I wanted to show the tragedy of women and the horrors of war,” he told the AFP. He added that the work was meant as “an expression of pacifism and a signal for peace” rather than an explicit condemnation of the Russians — which seems a tad disingenuous given both the history and the sculpture itself.

Naturally, the Russians are calling for Szumczyk’s head. That same Moscow Times story has this over-the-top statement from Russian ambassador Alexander Alexeyev:

“I am deeply outraged by the stunt by a Gdansk Fine Arts Academy student, who has defiled by his pseudo-art the memory of 600,000 Soviet servicemen who gave their lives in the fight for the freedom and the independence of Poland.”

Ahem. If Alexeyev wants to talk about defiling, alright then, let’s talk about defiling.

The ambassador continued: “We consider the installation of the statue as an expression of hooliganism, marked by an explicitly blasphemous nature.” Any followers of the Pussy Riot trial will note how eerily familiar those words sound.

Luckily, after a brief investigation, Polish authorities have declined to press charges on “a public incitement to hatred on the basis of nationality,” which Polskie Radio reports is a crime that can garner a two year-prison sentence. The case will now go to the police, who could fine him up to 1500 zloty (about $493) for an “indecent prank,” according to Polskie Radio. That seems quite steep for a piece of well-meaning but bad art, but it’s definitely better than jail time.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

19 replies on “Artist Installs Guerrilla Rape Sculpture in Poland”

    1. Hypocrites, you say? Remind me, what happened to the Soviet PoWs of the Polish-Soviet War?

      1. What happened has become all too typical of modern warfare. But it’s a false equivalency when these outraged bigots are suggesting they were
        “liberating” Poland from invading forces. The deal was struck with the Third Reich. Poland was to be divided. That massacre is peculiar because for decades upon decades they did everything inn their power to suggest it never even happened—not by the hands of the great “liberators.”

        1. You mean “purposeful exposure killed what the killing side says was 20%”.

          1. No I meant what I meant, not the Russian lies. And this is why I quoted English wiki, which is objective ..

            “They also show that the main cause of death were various illnesses and epidemics (influenza, typhus, cholera and dysentery), noting that these diseases also took a heavy toll among fighting soldiers and the civilian population”.

          2. So, purposeful exposure to elements, starvation and disease is in your opinion how POWs should be treated? That’s okay, worry not, you’re in the company of the most well-known leaders of one of the most civilized countries with that opinion.

          3. Nothing of substance to say, other than kindergarten name-calling? It’d be naive to expect otherwise.

  1. At that point of the war, Gdansk was still a German city (known as Danzig). The large majority of Gdandsk’s population was therefore German and the majority of women raped by Soviet troops was German as well. The title of his sculpture (“Komm, Frau”) most likely refers to the book “Frau, komm!” which was published in 2009 and deals with the mass rape of women by Soviet soldiers in the years 1944/45. The book contains many eyewitness accounts one of which recalls how a Soviet soldier forced a woman to follow his demands with the words “Frau, komm!/Davai suda!”
    In Poland, where every large city still has monuments from the Soviet occupation reminding the Poles of an independence that never was, Jerzy Szumczyk’s work (which is executed in the socialist realism’s style preferred by the Soviet Union) is not about “good” or “bad” art. It is about what is necessary and what has been largely ignored by Poles and Soviets alike – even 68 years after the war.

  2. The famous book by William L. Shirer, _The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich_, describes Russian soldiers in Berlin and other German cities rampaging through the streets using that phrase, “Frau, komm!” as they dragged women out to be gang-raped.

  3. Greetings from Warsaw, where I can report that this article doesn’t align very well with local reporting and sentiment in the art and art history circles I inhabit. It’s all far too complicated to cover well in a FB comment, but the local gist: This sculpture is of a *Russian* soldier raping a *German* woman in *(Polish)* Gdnask. Because Poland was partitioned for 100+ years between Russia, Germany, and Austria, and then during WWII, Russia and Germany duked out some nasty politics over Polish soil and at Polish expense, the choice of Russian soldier and German woman in Gdansk (on alternately Polish soil) are significant. (Moreover, there’s the contemporary-to-the-moment German history in the region as detailed in V. Witkowski’s comment below.) The prevailing sentiment about the removal of the sculpture is that Polish officials (and perhaps Poles generally) are concerned about Russian historical impulses in the region and contemporary Putin possibilities in/for the region. As for aesthetics, the art is immature. But it doesn’t matter. The politics are significant.

    Thanks for covering this and for providing the opportunity for nuance to be added.

    1. Thanks for reading and writing in from Warsaw, Ashley. What is the local sentiment there? Do people think the sculpture shouldn’t have been removed? Or that the Polish authorities are bowing to the Russians too quickly?

      1. The layers of nuance vis a vis Polish sentiments, thoughts, and opinions defy easy answers. Unlike in the US, binary thinking is not so common… should/shouldn’t and too quickly/not quickly enough, etc. aren’t at the heart of the response or the thinking. Instead, conversations that are are multi-textured and complex emerge from the events rather than sound-bytes about them. General cynicism prevails as a tone, however. “Forced” removal, “forced” anything at the behest–implied or otherwise–of Russia doesn’t sit well here. What’s fascinating to me about this series of events is not so much what occurred and is occurring here in Poland per se, but how the international community has taken it up and what this means in/for Poland. Parallels can be drawn between this swirl and ones (for different causes) across centuries of Polish/western history. I’ll be writing more about it for Michigan Quarterly Review blog, etc. in the coming months.

  4. Talk about defiled! What about the WOMEN? Obviously they have missed the point.

    “defiled by his pseudo-art the memory of 600,000 Soviet servicemen”. This makes me want to vomit.

  5. “… 600,000 Soviet servicemen who gave their lives in the fight for the freedom and the independence of Poland.” Is that what the Russians call it now? Freedom and independence? Odd that it looked like crushing client state dictatorship from here.

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