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Government Axes Olympic Swimming Routine Depicting Holocaust

June 6, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ Was it artistic license or mind-boggling insensitivity? France’s synchronized swim team had planned an Olympics routine based on the Holocaust.

Dressed in black bathing suits, they planned to goose-step in German military style to the pool, dive in, and re-enact the arrival of Jewish women in the death camps and their final march to the gas chambers.

While the team’s leader defended the program as art, his country’s sports minister decided it might offend crowds in Atlanta this summer. He ordered a change.

Sports Minister Guy Drut said he ordered the team to remove any ``allusions to the tragedy of the Shoah,″ the Hebrew word for the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews during World War II.

``There are subjects where we cannot run the risk of communicating messages which could be misinterpreted,″ Drut said.

The team had planned to perform the four-minute program at next month’s Summer Games in Atlanta. It was to be set to music from Steven Spielberg’s ``Schindler’s List″ and to chants sung in Jewish ghettos before the Holocaust.

``The routine is ridiculous,″ said Henri Hajdenberg, head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations. ``It’s tactless and in poor taste.″

Earlier this week, the French sports daily L’Equipe condemned the team for using one of history’s darkest periods as an entertainment theme.

``France, especially France, should not present a `show’ of this kind in Atlanta,″ the paper said in an editorial.

About 75,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were deported from France to Nazi death camps during World War II. Only about 2,500 survived.

The team’s technical director, Jean-Paul Clemencon, defended the program, saying it had ``great emotional value.″

``I’m astounded by all the criticism,″ he said.

The swimmers said they had not intended to offend anyone, but since synchronized swimming is a sport close to dance, no subject should be taboo.

National trainer Odile Petit said the routine was not unlike one performed by France’s ice dancers, who ``skated a program evoking torture in Chile.″

``The Holocaust is closer to us. It touches us more closely, but the routine is in no way a parody. Our message is an appeal to combat racism.″

Still, the routine drew jeers and disapproving whistles from an audience in Amiens when it was performed at a competition earlier this year.

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