French Olympic team cancels Shoah ballet

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PARIS (JTA) — A water ballet that France's synchronized-swimming team was to perform at the Olympics in Atlanta next month has been canceled after Jewish groups protested its theme — the Holocaust.

The controversy broke out after the French sports daily L'Equipe revealed that the water ballet would feature swimmers goose-stepping into the pool and mimicking the arrival of Jews at Auschwitz.

The performance was to be accompanied by German military marches, songs from the Jewish ghetto and the score from director Steven Spielberg's Holocaust epic, "Schindler's List."

The team's coach said the piece was intended to fight racism.

The French performance would not have been the first time that the Holocaust was used as a theme at a sports competition.

Renowned American figure skater Paul Wylie has performed in more than one exhibition a routine choreographed to the theme music of "Schindler's List."

There were no reported protests of Wylie's performances.

But upon learning of the planned water ballet, CRIF, the umbrella group of secular French Jewish organizations, complained to the French Swimming Federation.

Sports Minister Guy Drut immediately ordered the ballet withdrawn.

"We are pleased that this performance, which could have caused a scandal, has been canceled," said CRIF director Haim Musikant.

"We were shocked that someone could have tried to trivialize the Shoah through artistic expression."

Jean Kahn, president of the Consistoire, which oversees the religious needs of France's Jewish community, said using the Holocaust theme "without having consulted Jewish institutions beforehand was unthinking and frivolous."

Odile Petit, the team's coach, told L'Equipe that she and the swimmers knew that it could cause controversy, but they did not mean to shock or offend anyone.

The Holocaust theme "conveys emotion," Petit said. "Our sport is a sport of expression. Our message is an appeal to fight racism.

"If we had chosen to evoke a circus it would not have been controversial, but we wouldn't have been able to express ourselves so forcefully."