ROME (AP) — A cartoonist in Rome has sparked a heated controversy in Italy and abroad after depicting the European Union as the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as an escaping prisoner.
Artist Mario Improta posted the cartoon on his Twitter account Saturday, after Johnson’s Conservatives won a majority in the U.K. election. Johnson ran on a platform of “get Brexit done,” vowing to take Britain out of the European Union by the scheduled deadline of Jan. 31.
The cartoon features Johnson waving a British flag as he flees a concentration camp with the inscription “European Union” in the same position as the words “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) are at the entrance of the Nazi camp.
The comparison between the EU and a concentration camp immediately prompted a wave of criticism from politicians, Rome’s Jewish community and even some of the artist’s followers on Twitter.
The Auschwitz Memorial tweeted in Italian, noting that “‘Arbeit macht frei’ was a cynical illusion that the SS gave to prisoners of Auschwitz. Those words have become one of the icons of human hatred. It is painful for the memory of Auschwitz and its victims to see this symbol used and shamefully abused.”
The artist has become well-known in Italy as the author of an educational campaign for Rome featuring Mayor Virginia Raggi as a Manga hero. Raggi distanced herself from the cartoon and halted the collaboration with Improta.
After the widespread criticism, Improta on Monday modified the cartoon, replacing the image of the Nazi camp with a toilet and saying it wasn’t correct to “identify the EU with a concentration camp.”