At this month’s WrestleMania the WWE used some controversial footage during a ring entrance package for Dominik Mysterio. Twitter account @wa_wrestling noticed that the video included a clip filmed at Auschwitz, a concentration camp where the Nazi regime killed over a million prisoners (the majority of which were killed purely because they were Jewish). Other groups who were killed en masse at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945 include ethnic Poles, Roma and Sinti people, Soviet prisoners of war and those who would today identify as queer.
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The Auschwitz Museum, which currently preserves the site and uses it to educate on the horrors of Nazism, called the video “shameless”
“The fact that Auschwitz image was used to promote a WWE match is hard to call ‘an editing mistake,'” read a tweet from the museum’s official account. “Exploiting the site that became a symbol of enormous human tragedy is shameless and insults the memory of all victims of Auschwitz.”
WWE apologizes for Auschwitz footage
The company has replaced the footage with generic clips of barbed-wire in subsequent airings of WrestleMania. According to The Washington Post the company has addressed their use of Auschwitz footage.
“We had no knowledge of what was depicted. As soon as we learned, it was removed immediately,” read a statement from the WWE shared by WaPo.
WWE’s history of Nazi symbolism
This isn’t the first (or second) time the WWE has been called out for using Nazi references in their product.
Earlier this year the company abandoned a trademark for the name Gunther Stark, which they had been hoping to use for an Austrian wrestler then working under the name ‘Walter’. The reason for the abandonment was that Gunther Stark was also the name of a Nazi U-boat commander (per Sports Illustrated).
In 2015 the WWE fired Zahra Schreiber, who was training to be a wrestler in their developmental system, for posting images of swastikas on Instagram.
In 2004 performer John Layfield goose-stepped and threw several Nazi salutes during a show in Munich, Germany. Layfield excused the performance as part of his ‘bad guy persona’. Shortly after this incident Layfield lost his job as a contributor to CNBC. He was subsequently hired by Fox News.
2004 also saw the WWE discuss, but ultimately not pursue, the creation of a character named Baron Von Bava; a Nazi stormtrooper who had been cryogenically frozen in the 1940s and thawed out so he could appear in the ring.
In 1995 and then between 1996 and 1999 identical twins Don and Ron Harris appeared for the WWE as tag-teams called The Blu Brothers and Disciples of Apocalypse. The Harris twins both have Nazi SS symbols tattooed on their arms. The SS, also known as the Schutzstaffel and Einsatzgruppen, were death squads that played a leading role in the genocides perpetrated by the Nazi regime.
WWE’s new owner is an outspoken opponent of antisemitism
The WWE was recently purchased by Ari Emanuel and his Endeavor group. The WWE will now be merged with the UFC to create a live sports mega company. In 2022 Emanuel spoke out about Kanye West’s antisemitic ramblings, which included praising Adolf Hitler.
In an article he penned for the Chicago Tribune Emanuel stated, “Of course, praising Hitler is vile. And it’s easy to condemn – and get distracted. And what the cartoonish Kanye clown show distracts us from is what’s going on under the big top — how the virus of antisemitism and hate and division is spreading and attacking the foundations of our culture.”
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