Holocaust Rhymes And Lamborghinis, A Jewish Rapper Breaks Taboos In Germany

SpongeBOZZ's new album quickly shot up the German hip-hop charts, but his irreverence is telling, part of a growing trend to treat World War II as distant history.

The rapper Sun Diego has reinvented himself as the world's most beloved sponge.
The rapper Sun Diego has reinvented himself as the world's most beloved sponge.
Stuart Richardson


Watching the music video for SpongeBOZZ's latest single "Yellow Bar Mitzvah," it is not immediately clear what is really going on.

The first 15 seconds are a hodgepodge of menacing images and deafening noise. The video opens with a shot of a Hannukah menorah flickering in a dimly-lit room. As the frame widens, grainy footage comes into view of Orthodox Jewish men dancing to a spirited rendition of Hava Nagila. The camera then pans to a scantly-clad woman pushing a wheelbarrow full of cocaine before quickly zooming in on an arm clad in a Nazi-era yellow Star of David patch.

"Yellow Bar Mitzvah" carries on like this for four minutes, a bizarre mix of drug paraphernalia, Judaism and Nazi references. The creator of this oversaturated potpourri is Dimitri Chpakov, a Russian-born Jewish rapper who previously performed under the pseudonym Sun Diego. Now, as SpongeBOZZ, Chpakov dances alongside the doe-eyed Spongebob Squarepants as he boasts about owning sports cars and shooting his enemies.

When SpongeBOZZ released his latest album "Started from the Bottom / KrabbenKoke Tape" last month, it quickly shot up the German hip-hop charts, reaching the number two spot. For a musician who has gained most of his fame on YouTube, SpongeBOZZ's success has so far been modest.

But the 28-year-old is a significant addition to Germany's small but lively hip-hop scene, and is the only Jewish rapper to have gained any sort of notoriety. While Chpakov's Jewish heritage was known before the release of "Yellow Bar Mitzvah," his latest record is bold in its recognition of his cultural background.

Post-War Germany has tended to tread carefully when dealing with its Jewish community. This may be why few critics have ventured to critique Chpakov's latest work, particularly his facetious take on Judaism. But the few who have commented, have lauded the artist. One critic writing for the Berlin-based daily Die Welt went so far as to call Chpakov "the best rapper in Germany" at the moment.

The general lack of conversation surrounding the themes of "Yellow Bar Mitzvah" is surprising. The song and music video should be fodder for cultural commentators as it so crudely confronts the Holocaust. At one point, Chpakov calls out other rappers for "posing" like drug dealers although "they've never been in the ghetto like his grandma Sofia."

As in the United States, where racial epithets and images are seemingly permissible if used by an artist of the target race, SpongeBOZZ's Jewish heritage has made it possible for him to flippantly refer to the Holocaust alongside sex and drugs without serious backlash. But SpongeBOZZ's irreverence is telling, part of a growing tendency to treat the events of World War II as impersonal, distant history.

With the passing of each generation, Germans have felt increasingly disconnected from their country's troubled past. In one study conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation in 2015, 58% of Germans over 18 said they would prefer to put the Holocaust behind them. There appears to be a risk that the murder by Nazi Germany of 12 million innocent people — including six million Jews, alongside Roma, Slavs, homosexuals and other minorities — is slowly exiting the German conscience.

German hip-hop is widely seen as a hotbed of xenophobia

This trend is made more apparent with the perceived rise in anti-Semitism across Europe over the past decade. A study published in June by the University of Oslo found that the perception of growing anti-Semitism has reached such heights that one in four German Jews has considered leaving the country. A recent scandal reported in Suddeutsche Zeitung, involving a Jewish student in Berlin who was bullied over several months, has underscored this disturbing new tendency.

Germany's music scene has not been immune to this uptick in anti-Semitism. In fact, German hip-hop is widely seen as a hotbed of xenophobia, particularly against Jews. When SpongeBOZZ's album rose on the German charts in June, he was only outranked by Bushido, Germany's best-selling rapper. The son of Iranian immigrants, Bushido, born Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi, has been widely criticized over the course of his career for his rude and abusive lyrics. In addition to recurrent complaints of sexism and homophobia, the 38-year-old rapper was accused of anti-Semitism in 2013 by the Israeli Embassy in Berlin after he changed his Twitter profile picture to a map of the Middle East in which the colors of the Palestinian flag replaced the State of Israel.

In early February, organizers of the Hessentag cultural festival narrowly voted to remove Kollegah, another well-known rapper, from its lineup of musical guests after the Central Council of Jews in Germany accused the musician of propagating "anti-Semitism, homophobia, and violence against women." In response, Kollegah published an open letter to Facebook in which he accused the Central Council of being ignorant of his musical genre and pulling its allegations "out of the air." Kollegah also noted that the accusations came just months after his visit to the West Bank as a self-anointed goodwill ambassador. Last November the 32-year-old rapper released an account of his journey in the form of a full-length documentary on YouTube. In it, he jokingly suggested that he should purchase shooter video games for Palestinian children living in a refugee camp near Ramallah.

Following his exclusion from the Hessentag festival, Kollegah and PA Sports, another German rapper, released a joint diss track targeting Chpakov, as well as a German online personality, Julien Sewering. The song, which is titled "Son of a Bitch-Holocaust" despite having nothing to do with the Second World War, features Kollegah's usual bout of sexism, homophobia, and violence. Chpakov later mocked the track on Facebook, calling its creators "politically correct."

The government, local municipalities and school boards across Germany have set up numerous programs over the years to combat xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. "Yellow Bar Mitzvah" is Chpakov's way of doing the same. But his attempt to fight anti-Semitism in German hip-hop does not reaffirm the resilience of European Jews. Instead, it cheapens their experience.

As of mid-July, the music video for "Yellow Bar Mitzvah" has surpassed five million views and had a "like" rating of about 90% on YouTube. In the comments section, one user wrote "After the line ‘rappers were never in the ghetto like my grandma Sofia" I had goosebumps." Another responds "Such a great line!" No one else mentions the blatant allusions to the Third Reich in the video, as if the unmistakable Star of David patch stitched onto Chpakov's sleeve is just another prop like the Lamborghinis and bags of cocaine.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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