A violent controversy took place in Jerusalem in January 1998 when the Yad Vashem memorial of the Holocaust withdrew the US $ 5,000 Sussman prize awarded to Israeli sculptor Yigal Tumarkin.
The choice of Tumarkin, born in Germany in 1933 from an
« Aryan » father and a Jewish mother who fled with him to Palestine before World War Two seemed ideal since the artist had been working intensely for a kind of reconciliation between the Germans and his people.
Many of his monuments dedicated to the Holocaust have been erected in Israel, the United States and Europe but Tumarkin is known to have openly criticised orthodox Jews reportedly going as far as saying in 1988 that because of their looks one could understand the reason for the Holocaust.
The Yad Vashem prize committee came back on its award decision after receiving thousands of phone calls from religious circles protesting against the attitude of Tumarkin.
The artist said he never made any such defamatory remark against orthodox Jews but noted that when they wanted to go against somebody they met no opposition. «They oppose Yad Vashem because it contains sculptures of naked bodies ».
He went on to accuse orthodox jews of « having killed the peace process in the Middle East » by supporting the extension of colonial settlements in Palestinian territories.
Orthodox leaders replied that they had enough being calomniated by Tumarkin and that they had nothing against naked bodies in museums which they simply did not visit. They added that their protests were not against his works of art but his remarks.