By Jonalynn Lao
There is no doubt that the tourism industry is continuously booming. People decide to travel far and wide from different parts of the world to get to their tourist destination. Many visitors have various reasons for visiting several attractions; for example, business tourists who are traveling for their company. Cultural tourism attracts those who enjoy experiencing a culture they are unfamiliar with or who would like to learn more about a particular area. Another category of travelers are educational tourists who are most likely students who travel to study in a city or country.
I am currently an educational tourist from the United States traveling in Central Europe. Studying abroad in Central Europe has been exhilarating, and I feel that I am always learning something new every day about the culture of Europe and its history. The type of tourism that I will be discussing here is Dark Tourism; dark tourism is the practice of visiting places that have been historically associated with death or tragedy. Locations of dark tourism can include cemeteries, exhibitions of disasters, concentration camps, and the list goes on. Many people decide to travel and visit dark tourism areas for educational purposes or to satisfy one’s curiosity.
As a Junior at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh, studying Business Management and Hotel Restaurant Tourism, I am intrigued by Dark Tourism because people visit memorials and museums that represent haunted, dreaded places for individuals in the past that are incorporated into our day-to-day routine, but we are unaware of it. I live in New York City, and only recently I came to realize that Ground Zero is a memorial associated with dark tourism. On a hot summer day, a passerby can be seen riding their bikes, vendors selling food and tourists taking photos, some smiling for the camera. Upon reflection, I have begun to wonder how does someone appropriately behave when visiting a site that once had a cruel history and what is the best way to commemorate tragic events?
All over the world, we can find places connected to a tragedy of the past that has become a tourist attraction in the present. One compelling memorial and museum that is popular among tourists is the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camp. When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau two week ago, what alarmed me the most was the behavior of some of the visitors. I noticed people were taking photos of things that I found extremely inappropriate. Individuals were posing beneath the infamous sign at the entrance to Auschwitz that says “Arbeit Macht Frei” which is a German phrase meaning “Work Sets You Free.” It is a cynical sign that was put up by the Nazis during World War II to spite the Jews as they entered the camp. Before visiting the site, my group had a conversation about how tourists should act when visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 2014, The New Yorker published an article titled “Should Auschwitz Be a Site for Selfies?” that discussed the increase in the phenomena of selfie taking there, including an incident where a teenage girl took a photo with a duck face while making a peace sign, then shared it on social media. I believe posing inappropriately in front of a former World War II concentration and extermination camp is extremely improper because it disrespects the victims of the Holocaust. Visitor’s needs to remember that it is not essential to commemorate that you were there, but the people who were there before you, and a camera cannot capture the essence of every moment.
A poet named Wislawa Szymborska wrote a powerful poem called “The End and the Beginning.” In this poem, she said “Those who knew what was going on here must make way for those who know little. And less than little. And finally, as little as nothing.” Some people have no knowledge about World War II and the events that occurred to many Jews in concentration and extermination camps; in fact, some individuals argued that The Holocaust never happened. A famous historian, David Irving claimed that the Holocaust never occurred and continued to deny that Jews were murdered in gas chambers at the Auschwitz extermination camp; his claim was brought to court in 1966, Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd. and Deborah Lipstadt. The trial began on January 11, 2000, and ended on April 11, 2000, with the verdict favoring Penguin Book Ltd. and Deborah Lipstadt. I would recommend a fantastic movie titled “Denial,” it correctly displays the events of the court case against Irving and Lipstadt.
As generations continue to come and go it is important to educate and remind ourselves of history, the good, the bad and the ugly. Dark Tourism is precious because it exposes topics that are controversial, it informs and educates visitors of the past no matter how painful some information may be. Commemorating history does not stop after you visit a memorial site or a museum, but it is about remembering the past continuously, if the present remains silent about the past then this may encourage future generations to ignore or forget these horrific periods of human history. George Santayana, an remarkable philosopher, poet, and novelist once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Margalit, Ruth. “Should Auschwitz Be a Site for Selfies?” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 06 June 2017. Web. 10 June 2017.
Szymborska, Wisława. “The End and the Beginning.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2001. Web. 10 June 2017.
“Trial Materials.” Holocaust Denial on Trial. Emory University, 2016. Web. 9 June 2017.