Holocaust and torture depicted in LEGO

As much as I enjoy the robots, spaceships, and tanks we blog here on a regular basis, there are also those occasional LEGO creations that remind us that we’re part of a broader world — a world in which war is not fun and war is not play.

My brother and I went to see Schindler’s List a few months before I found myself standing in the silence of the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Matija Grguric captures one of the most moving moments from the film in this vignette.

The Girl in Red

Though we haven’t featured her work before, Legofesto has been protesting the torture and abuse of detainees caught up in the Iraq War and “War on Terror” for several years (via VignetteBricks):

LEGO torture

For me, LEGO has always been a medium for potential art, and art doesn’t shy away from the world we live in. There is beauty in truth, no matter how ugly the reality. In the very revulsion I feel about what I see depicted in these vignettes — heightened by the fact that the medium is a children’s toy — I find hope that there will come a time when humans rise above our own depravity.

If you feel compelled to do so, you’re absolutely free to engage in respectful, thoughtful (inevitable) debate in the comments. But this also seems like a good time to remind everyone of the Terms of Service. Racism, abusive language, and anything construed as bigotry will not be tolerated.

37 comments on “Holocaust and torture depicted in LEGO

  1. NateKing

    Those pictures are very powerful, but I disagree with posting them here. Because we have to remember that adults are not the only ones viewing this blog. Children view it as well, some with their parents. And I don’t think these pictures are appropriet to show.

  2. Herman

    I agree with NateKing.

    Is it possible to hide the pictures behind a NSFK (Not Suitable For Kids) link?

    As to the pictures, sure Lego can be an art form. But Lego always had some kind of innocence in my eyes, never releasing anything to do with war or violence (apart from pirates perhaps, but they have a sort of romance to them). I have mixed feelings. Either I think stuff like this sucks or don’t care at all.

    But I certainly don’t like it.

  3. minifig

    I disagree with the previous two commenters on a couple of points:

    1. This is a blog explicitly for adult fans of Lego, the fact that it uses the medium of Lego is entirely beside the point. It’s not for The Brothers Brick to police their content based on which imaginary children might be visiting here.
    2. I don’t think, for most children, these vignettes are particularly disturbing. I think for an adult they are because we are well aware of the horrors they represent. If adults are visiting this blog with their children (which is a very responsible way to deal with the internet as an adult and should be commended), then it gives the adults the chance to explain to the children, in an age-appropriate way, what these represent. This would provide a great opportunity to discuss with children what torture is, and whether it’s appropriate in the 21st Century.

    It’s also worth noting that the originals of the torture pictures were available in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic which, as far as I know, were available to children and adults alike.

    If, as an adult, this is something you find disturbing or distasteful, I suggest taking it up with your government to make sure the torture itself never takes place again. That’s the best way to protect your children.

  4. Kevoh

    Is it the responsibility of Brothers Brick to protect children? Or even, to decide what is or is not appropriate for children to view?

  5. hrolf

    I disagree.

    EVERYONE, adults, and kids alike should be forced to see the truth behind the last 8 years, how wrong torture is, and how mindless wars for no real reason do not help in any way to make this country great.

    However, it is disturbing to see the torture victims smiling in that Lego way.

  6. mediocre

    Very interesting and powerful concept. I agree that it’s poignancy is heightened by the fact that children’s toys were used to depict the scene. Also, this week was Memorial Day and Liberation Day (4th and 5th of May respectively) in the Netherlands, already putting me in the mood to think about these things.

  7. LordExxos

    As for its appropriateness, I see worse in real life on an almost daily basis in my own neighborhood. This is how mankind behaves these days and a lot of children probably see worse in their day-to-day, parenting-deprived lives.

    The Schindler’s list vignette feels a little too bright, too clean, and the blank, grey figures could do well with star of david armbands. Faceless and already dead, in a way, but the armbands help bring the single entities into an even greater, faceless mass that was snuffed out. The vignette is missing some of that weight.

    The legofesto scenes call on the imagery that inspired them more readily. Though the lower-right image, I just see two naked guys trying to get buckets off their heads and find it humorous.

  8. Herman

    “Is it the responsibility of Brothers Brick to protect children? Or even, to decide what is or is not appropriate for children to view?”

    I think it is. This is not just another blog, it’s toy-related and parents should not have to worry that anything inappropriote is posted here.

    On the other hand the pictures aren’t that scary, so I guess it’s acceptable. I would hide them behind a link though.

  9. Nolnet

    I wholeheartedly agree with posting those pics here. The subjects are worthy to discuss, or at least to not be forgotten. And the LEGO rendition is obviously an art form that reaches us AFOLs in a pretty direct way.

    Speaking of AFOL – I see this place as a website for adults. Teenagers over thirteen are welcome (by the terms of service), which is an age high enough to discuss the unpleasant parts of history and politics.

    What worries me the most is the “appropriate-for-children” discussion that frequently arises whith subjects like this. Same goes for the depiction of nudity, even when it’s LEGO nudity. I’m worried because MOCs of heavily armed machines, gore, ultra-realistic weapons, zombies, battlefield scenes, war, blood and thunder seem to be perfectly fine with the same children. It drives me out of my skin, normally, but for the sake of calm I better shut up.

  10. eti

    These pictures must be seen by children.

    I do not think children should be exposed to gruelling detailed shots of torture – but if you see what’s published on the papers, they are anyway.

    But these are not detailed photos of terror – these are Lego renditions of terror.
    Very little children (like mine, 2 years old) will just say ‘Hey, Lego figures!’ without realizing what’s going on at all.
    Bigger children will understand more of what is shown here. But it will not have the same impact on them as it has on us because it is a toy representation. Actually, it is a very good way to explain what bad things happen in this world – if they’re mature enough to understand.

    And amen to what NolNet (one comment up) says. Yesterday our kids were at a friend’s place (her child is also 2 years old) who had just gotten a helicopter from their grandfather. A plastic toy, made in China but it said ‘US Army Battleplan’ and when you turned it on, the whole room thundered with gunfire, voices shouting ATTACK! KILL! and from the back some soldiers with a cannon with flashing lights came out. I was very happy that the kids did not understand what it was and I think such a toy is really gruelling, because it tells kids that killing people is a very cool thing to do.

    The MOC depicted here only lets children think and form their own opinion.

  11. Herman

    Good points. I guess some people would be offended, but honestly I wouldn’t be offended if my children got to see images like this. They are either too young to understand or old enough to know the world is not a real life teletubbieland. This is mostly an AFOL blog anyway.

    So speaking for myself I don’t mind, although I don’t like to see Lego’s “innocence” destroyed by stuff like this. But that’s just me. This perticular case works out pretty good, meaning it’s not just some smut but a pretty correct presentation of real images.

    With Lily Allen singing profanities on the radio three times a day here this isn’t really all that spectacular.

    Still, I’d put them behind a link so anyone can decide for themselves, including children.

  12. buriedbybricks

    I also agree with Kehvoh, it is the parents responsibility to decide what’s best for thier children and I agree with Nolnet that apparently the other examples of these ‘inapropriate’ subjects that appear frequently on Brothers Brick and other LEGO blogs are not being spoken out against. The reason for this is that the usual violent imagery is fantasy and this is based on reality, a reality adults are ashamed to have to explain to their children.
    I was raised under the philosophy that if a child is old enough to ask a question, they’re old enough to deserve an answer. I never lost sleep know that there were people in the world commiting heinous crimes, I found hope in the knowledge that there were always people who worked to stop atrocities like these. That’s why I joined the army and why I left.
    That’s the way my wife and I are raising our son. He’s a happy little boy without a care in the world, but when he sees things like these he wants to know what we can do to stop it. He also understands that it won’t stop until everyone feels the same way.
    Besides if people were really so dead set against the possibility of there children seeing violence, nudity and other mature subjects portrayed in LEGO Rocko would have been run out of town years ago!
    I love that guy ;)

  13. Will Thomas

    Picking up on what Exxos said, I think the scenes would work better with fleshies, lower lighting, and also more of un-tidy build.

  14. Herman

    I agree with the latter two points, but I don’t think it’s very usefull to make the minifigs flesh-colored for realism, as the are minifigs and look far from real anyway.

    Making them fleshy would make it look like an attempt to despirately make it look well… not like Legos.

    Then again I believe I belong to the “Minifigs should be yellow”-camp.

  15. joxxy

    I have been looking at this site for a while, as a theatre designer and illustrator, I love the scope, and adore the ingenious structures that appear.

    Just joined to make this comment, the form of LEGO to me is separate from the ‘politica’l world, when dealt with it becomes humorous and bad taste. The images in the last sequence are stylized representations of an actual event, almost like looking at a cartoon in a newspaper, but what are they saying?

    Without commentary or some didactic they become numb. Maybe like me recreating that onstage, with no supportive comment, narrative or slant on aesthetics.

    Apologies if I have not read into the work enough, or its creator, but thats quite explicit.


  16. Thanel

    What’s this? I saw the post and thought my big bro had just stepped on another landmine, but instead I find civil discourse and thoughtful discussion on a wide range of important policy, personal and parenting issues. What’s the world coming to? People actually abide by the TOS?

    I picked up a copy of “The World of LEGO Toys” at April’s SandLUG meeting and read it cover to cover. I was oddly moved reading the LEGO philosophy of building toys that were universal and had the potential to constantly expand the player’s creativity into architecture, art and history. As much as I love the brickforge and brickarms additions as well as the Indiana Jones theme, I do have to consider where that moves LEGO play in general and whether I like that place.

  17. Will Thomas

    Herman: For me, fleshies work better for builds such as this and also post-apoc. Fleshies give a sense of bleakness. The above pictures of “torture” have perfect lighting and use lightercolors, which don’t work well for portraying such bleak scenes IMO.

  18. Kevoh

    It might be more powerful that they are all yellow. No depiction of race, emphasizing that we are all equal. It suggests questions such as “Would the military personnel have been as willing to do such unspeakable acts if the ‘enemy combatants’ where say, white and christian?”

    Also, the imagery of LEGO is tied to the yellow figure. To non-AFOLS, “fleshies” would be confusing and distracting, while the yellow connects to a long history of toys, childhood, and play, an interesting and purposeful contrast to the horrors depicted.

  19. Brickwares

    As one of the posters above mentioned, there are DAILY depictions of weapons and starships, and killer robots. This stuff isn’t all that different, except there are pics with blood flowing from a minifig’s head ,etc. I think it boils down to what you consider acceptable.

    TBB has made it clear that they post what they like, and what they find interesting. If you disagree, that’s your right, as it is your right to not visit the site. Don’t try to impose your own morality on them, but feel free to act on your own.

  20. jreddawg

    As my three year old son might say, “I like happy Legos” (e.g. Town, Trains, Cafe Corner, etc.), and I’m generally disinterested in the violent scenes of zombies and killer robots that populate this otherwise excellent blog. In contrast to the zombies, the torture scenes at least have something meaningful to say (see deconstructions in other posts, above), and are provocative.

    As for children: I think we should be outraged that we had a government that would do *anything* we don’t want our kids to see. Please send complaints to Mr. Cheney, not the Brothers Brick.

    As a side note, I would like to commend BB readers. Who would expect that a blog devoted to toys could host a more civil, sophisticated and considerate discussion on torture than you’ll ever find on political blogs?

  21. bruce n h

    Well, obviously since I already blogged the Abu Ghraib scenes on VignetteBricks I feel it appropriate to post them here as well. Both the effect of these MOCs and the string of comments are very reminiscent of the discussion of Zbigniew Libera’s LEGO Concentration Camp display that used to flare up every once in a while.


  22. Kaitimar

    I agree, AFOLs are actually capable of having a civilized debate on the stickiest of subjects, and I know that from personal experience.
    The girl in red: I don’t really understand the whole “fleshie vs yellow” debate. Schindler’s list is in B&W, and the only color in the whole movie is that girl’s red coat. That’s why the other figs are grey. Actually, she should be gray too, except for the red coat. That way the dio would me much more accurate, as she wouldn’t have that scared face. In the film, the little girl wandering around in the mist of a nazi gathering of the Jews is pretty calm, watching everything with the innocence of a child. And that is even more chilling that if she would have been crying. And when a soldier takes her hand, she just goes with him, with the trust of an innocent child, even thou we know what will happen to her.
    Schindler is watching the whole scene from the hill, and it is the little girl that moves something in him and turns him from just another war profiteer to a savior.

    Abu Ghraib: Our westen culture (and all the rest as well, actually) will tolerate violence in the media to an amazing extent, but you better not show two people making babies!
    I think it’s all part of a plan to make little soldiers. Must have soldiers. War is good for business (as seen in the Shindler’ list).

  23. Will Thomas

    ^Just wait until a 12 year-old MOCpager comes in saying “omg guys, wth? waterboaridng isnt torture!!1 u are all liberil partizans!!!11” Truth be told, I almost miss the flame wars of ’08. “obama will maek us a comunist country!!!11!!1” And before I forget, the fleshie versus yellow “debate” [if you can even call it that] was over the creations by Legofesto.

  24. EnduringCold

    I think that this is a very powerful depiction, and even if a child WERE to stumble across this vignette, I don’t think it’s impact would be very great, due to the lack of understanding. The other pictures, however, depicting the violence in the treatment of Iraqi prisoners is horrifying. Not in the expressive sense, for it is well built and shows the acts of evil which the prisoners went through with a resounding clarity, but it is so much more vivid and acute, unlike the Schindler’s List diorama. Not that it wasn’t good. And maybe Legofesto will also show the violence that the Palestian people in Gaza are going through with the Israelis, because that is “The Hidden Holocaust”.

  25. Andrew Post author

    @Will Thomas: Heh heh. That’s is precisely why we have a 13-and-older policy in our Terms of Service.

    I’m very happy with how cordial this discussion has been so far. A couple of people have asked me privately if I’ve had to delete any comments that violate the ToS. I’m pleased to report that that hasn’t been necessary. I thank you all for that.

  26. Thanel

    I’m an avid NPR (American equivalent of BBC) listener and this TBB thread was along the lines of the type of discourse I hear and like there. The other day I got a window into the other side when I heard a jarring interview with radio personality Michael Savage which was the equivalent of what Will Thomas parodied above:


    The contrast is striking and makes me appreciate decent conversation all the more. Thank you all.

  27. Kaitimar

    Yes, it’s true, missed that. Great movie anyway.
    Maybe someone will make a Waltz with Bashir dio now?

  28. Nolnet

    @ Kaitimar: I second your opinion, but showing two people making babies? Are you kidding?
    Isn’t the honorable Supreme Court of some country currently engaged in debating the issue of *gasp* One Flashed Nipple Five Years Ago? Seriously, folks, keep within the scope here ;-)

  29. Creative Anarchy

    Children should not be exposed to images of torture, really not even to images of lego torture. We all to often underestimate how much children absorb and comprehend and how impressionable they can be. But really the solution is to work together to make this a world where torture doesn’t happen and until we have that vingettes like this are important.

    It could be my American Media exposure but the images are especially creepy as a lot of them depict scenes I haven’t seen.

  30. ChuckC

    Hrolf: “EVERYONE, adults, and kids alike should be forced to see the truth behind the last 8 years, how wrong torture is, and how mindless wars for no real reason do not help in any way to make this country great.”

    Wouldn’t forcing someone to see something be a form of oppression? Oh, nothing wrong with that.

  31. Brickapolis

    I am glad to see this rendered in Lego. It should serve to remind all of us of the horrors of war and the poor judgment that some people have.

  32. Shmails

    Creative Anarchy – Don’t you think a child watching a school bully beating up a nerd in the hall has more effect than a picture of a LEGO creation? Sheltering children from historical facts is a mistake. Exposure combined with proper explanation and context can go much further to develop young minds than shelter and fear of what is out there to be seen.

    As for the scenes themselves, they are powerful, and push the boundaries of what you can say with a building block and some creative thinking. I am glad that there are people in this world not afraid to push the envelope beyond accepted levels.

    Thanks for the post Andrew, this is a very interesting debate!

  33. RadRadio

    I think if Lego is seen as an art then this is perfectly exceptable.I have been to many museums and art gatherings and most of them contained pieces that were considered inappropriate for children for some reason or another, yet they all had children looking at the pieces because it was art and that made it ok.What I’m saying is that Here Lego is considered art and should be treated as such.If parents want to let their kids on here thats their choice, it’s not like the Brothers-brick has always had kid-friendly creations and then popped out of no-where with this not-aimed-at-kids moc, no they’ve had zombies and wars and other such things so why should something that actually happened that someone wanted to share be any different?

  34. Optimystic

    Hrolf: I disagree, no-one should be forced to see the truth, only have the ability. No-one should be forced to do, or see anything.

    Coming to the Vig I dislike how the teeth are used for feet, although it’s besides the point.

  35. legofesto

    HI Guys.
    What an interesting and considered comment thread.

    I would like to commend BB readers. Who would expect that a blog devoted to toys could host a more civil, sophisticated and considerate discussion on torture than you’ll ever find on political blogs?

    Me too.

    A bit of backgound; these images are recreations of photographs and/or first hand testimony where original photos do not exist. All the Abu Ghraib pieces are recreations of photos, horrific as that idea is.

    The images originated on my blog here, where the context, motive and didactic are explicit. Once the images were – how should I put this? – liberated on the internet they took on a life of their own without any explanation to anchor them. This was always going to be an issue.

    An ex-detainee from Guantanamo Bay, innocent and released without any conditions, used them to explain to his kids what had happened to him. So some work I would say is not child-inappropriate, but other pieces are, such as the recreation of the Rape in Mahmudiya, Iraq. Most definately not for forums where there are kids.

    EnduringCold: check out the blog, there is a piece callled Israelification about such warcrimes.

    As for yellow vs fleshies…. i no like fleshies, sorry.

    All my work can also be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/legofesto/ where I also post new stuff.

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