Mediated Suffering & Poverty Porn: Auschwitz and Birkenau Memorial

 Travelling in the 21st century is equally about self-enlightenment, than it is about taking the right holiday snap, at the right angle, with the right lighting and panoramic20140701_062140.jpg20140720_120156.jpg background, to convey a message of being #blessed and #cultured.

In 2014, I ventured across the globe to explore my mother’s homeland (Poland) and the neighbouring regions. By default, I fell into the habit of methodically framing images to share with my network and the rest of the world. One moral minefield that I encountered, was determining where taking pictures was and was not appropriate.

 

As a fresh out of high-school history extension student, visiting the Auschwitz and Birkenau site was an upmost priority. I so desperately wanted to vicariously share with my classmates what I saw and shed light on the content we learnt about. Documenting said experience ended up being one of the most complicated and morally ambiguous events of the trip. I did not use my camera throughout the tour, minus an image of my admit one museum ticket, merely as proof of my attendance (pictured to the right) . Other patrons were not as accommodative and respectful to the Auschwitz and Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

I struggled to reconcile the torture, suffering and desolate extermination of people on this very site, with the smiles and glamour that a selfie offered. In-front of the infamous gates, people flashed ear-to-ear smiles, capturing this moment forever. Inside the gas chamber where men, women and children met their cruel and untimely death, tourists posed next to walls lined with scratches from victims fingernails, a final sign a desperation.

I was annoyed. No, I was furious. Livid.

Yet, I said nothing.

the-entrance-to-auschwitz-1-photo_11369752-fit468x296.jpg

 

Auschwitz selfie teen‘, Brianna Mitchell’s headlining image (pictured below) and my personal experiences, have since led me to question: Where is the morality and what ethics are used to justify taking joyfulimrs.php.jpegand self-promotional images at sacred sites?

Opening the Auschwitz and Birkenau sites up to the public, you run the risk of turning a significant historical artefact, into a hollow tourist attraction advertised in pamphlets and marketed as a ‘must see‘. This can cause people to view the camp as a tourist trap, such as the Eiffle Tower, Trevi Fountain, Berlin Wall, etc. Turning a Nazi Extermination Camp into a benign tourist trap would defeat the purpose of opening the site up. The death camp’s walls stand as a testament to the Nazi regime and as a reminder to not let such systematic atrocities occur again. Museums and Memorials all over the world are cautionary tales, reminding the people of today of the failures and political misadventures of their predecessors.

Alabama teen Brianna Mitchell’s image circulated various social media platforms, exposing her to a barrage of hate. Mitchell has since refused to apologise for her grinning photo, justifying that her image was taken in memory of her late father who shared her love of history and learning about World War II. “Like apparently is such a big deal that I smiled. Good Lord,” she said.

Perhaps it is inevitable that there will be people around the world who will engage in such unethical conduct. People who like Mitchell, believe that their circumstance or opinion over-rides the experiences of those in the camps. People who’s ideologies align with the regime of the day and sternly posing next to the gates of the death camp. Direct descendants of the camp’s victims or those who narrowly escaped, triumphantly framing images of a site that so drastically affected their lives or the lives of their loved ones. At the end of the day, it comes down to a balancing act. Balancing the unethical ‘poverty porn’ of patrons, who merely come to take photos and view the cautionary tales hollowly, and those who feel the messages and tragedy of the camp.

I am grateful that these sites, and others alike it are open to the public and stand as constant reminders of the atrocities and systematic genocide that occurred. I advise all article-2702161-1FE3C2C700000578-630_634x631travelling to Eastern Europe to take some time out of their trip to learn first-hand and experience the desolation of these camps. Perhaps this is the ultimate compromise; to allow the enlightenment of the citizenry, we have to tolerate these people who choose to distastefully pose before a mass murder sites, and their images. Hopefully, with time, social media etiquette in such significant places will become clearer and people will think twice before grinning before an extermination camp that saw the death of approximately 1.1 million innocent people.

 

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