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July 11, 2014 10:56 AM   Subscribe

"Is it OK to take a selfie at Auschwitz?", asks archaeologist Paul Mullins. Selfies are people in places, not objects in spaces, says Katie Warfield.
posted by Rumple (76 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 


No.
posted by infini at 11:11 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Taking a selfie in such a place seriously degrades the fact of the gross human tragedy that took place there, replacing it with personal exultation. Don't be a dick.
posted by ZaneJ. at 11:14 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]




Why wouldn't it be? Is it okay to hand the camera to someone else to take a photograph of us at a tragic historic site? Or is it only transgressive if we hold the camera ourselves?

I'm not sure I understand the hoopla around selfies. People have been wanting to have images made of themselves since forever. The ancient god-kings mostly had enormous statues made. The cliche Japanese tourist of the mid-late 20th century takes group shots in front of every historic site. I don't understand why selfies are seen as alien in the way that some academics explore the phenomenon.

Are we not allowed to take photographs of ourselves in places where awful things happened? Are we allowed to take photographs of the places themselves, or is it just that we aren't allowed to stand in front of them?
posted by MythMaker at 11:17 AM on July 11 [26 favorites]


I feel like the biggest issue with social media trends like selfies is that it's traditionally the behavior of people partying or joking. Therefore, it feels extremely wrong to do that in somber places meant to remind humans of what we are capable of at our worst, or to give those who have lost or been hurt a place to grieve or pray or think.

If selfies were something that existed less as a joke or a form of bragging or celebrating and more just as a way of saying "here I am right now," that'd be different, but you can't just shed that baggage. It's a symbolic gesture like the middle finger or a thumbs up now, and you can't just do those things in any context and expect their meanings to disappear.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:19 AM on July 11 [9 favorites]


This is something that's pretty interesting, especially in thumbing through the selfies here versus the ones at Kara Walker's Subtlety. There's far more of what strikes me as a weird generalized irreverence, like, here I am, chillin' at Auschwitz, versus the direct mockery of the problematic selfies at Subtlety (some of the same charges, I think, could be aimed at the less problematic general chillin' with Subtlety selfies, but I think there's a pretty qualitative difference). I think with Subtlety, there was a mistake in some of the readers of that post as seeing it as against selfies broadly (maybe that was the position of some of the writers, though I didn't pick that up) instead of against a particular mode of selfies there.

It's also worth noting that the populations are really different: Most of the photos from the Selfies at Auschwitz came from Israeli (reasonable to assume Jewishness and/or reasonable familiarity with the Holocaust), which gives a pretty different context.

I'll also say that I'm more prone to being OK with irreverence and with ironic photography, as well as selfies in general (I don't take many myself, but that's because I think I'm usually less visually interesting that most of what's going on around me).
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 AM on July 11


Better to take a selfie than to interrupt a stranger's sombre pilgrimage by asking them to take the picture for you, which used to be the norm in these kinds of situations. Maybe hold back the smile and the thumbs-up, though.

And that's sort of the thing, though: It's a pilgrimage. When people are taking selfies there, they are documenting not just the place--there's really no reason to do that when there's so much documentation already--but that they visited it, which is the whole point of a pilgrimage.

Yeah, it's tacky, but, I mean, come on. Worse things have happened there.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:21 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


If you take a selfie at Auschwitz, then you should never delete that photo. You have to live the rest of your life with the knowledge and evidence that at one time you were the sort of person who took a selfie at Auschwitz.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:22 AM on July 11 [12 favorites]


Though I dislike selfies in general, I do not believe I should judge who should and should not do this and that. In fact, that a selfie person went to Auschwitz gets credit in my book. A selfie there is a reminder, a memory tic, a shot perhaps for FaceBook, that the spot or any spot was visited. What harm in that? If, as Jews say, Never Forget, then this is a social media way of doing it.
posted by Postroad at 11:25 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Why wouldn't it be? Is it okay to hand the camera to someone else to take a photograph of us at a tragic historic site? Or is it only transgressive if we hold the camera ourselves?...Are we not allowed to take photographs of ourselves in places where awful things happened? Are we allowed to take photographs of the places themselves, or is it just that we aren't allowed to stand in front of them?

I don't get why a visit has to be photographed at all to be remembered.
posted by mochapickle at 11:30 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


The selfie has a self-serving stigma: I AM SO FABULOUS LOOK A DOUCHEY PICTURE OF MEHHHH IN THIS PICTURE OF SOMETHING ELSE. Functionally though its the modern equivalent of sending a postcard: Here I am in this place thinking of you in some token manner at the very least.

You can get postcards in the gift shop.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:30 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


They told me that the photographs rarely ever come out, and while I still have the ones from Auschwitz, there isn't a single one from Birkenau that downloaded from the camera. *Poof*
posted by infini at 11:32 AM on July 11


Isn't this like other people taking photos of their food in restaurants? As long as they're not actively interfering with your visit by, say, using flash, what does it matter what other people do?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:37 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I don't get why a visit has to be photographed at all to be remembered.

Sometimes we write about our experiences, sometimes we take pictures, and sometimes we just tell stories about the time we went somewhere somber. Often the first two are connected with the telling of stories. I don't see taking a picture at a death camp with yourself that different than writing a journal entry about your presence there and how it made you feel and what you were doing.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 11:38 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


The hashtags!

I stopped reading when I got to #yolocaust.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:38 AM on July 11 [6 favorites]


I don't get why a visit has to be photographed at all to be remembered.

I don't think anybody's suggesting that taking tourist photographs be enforced as a requirement. If you don't like taking photographs because your visual memory is wonderful, great. The question is why it would be morally wrong to take a pictorial record of the fact that you visited Auschwitz. As to which, so far, not a single compelling argument has been brought forward.

Most of this "selfie" thing is just tedious "get off my lawn"ism. Everybody seems to have forgotten that people have been taking photos of themselves ever since cameras were invented; and that before that people painted self-portraits or commissioned artists to paint their self-portraits. The notion that the "selfie" is some sign of the impending collapse of civilization is just freakishly bizarre.
posted by yoink at 11:38 AM on July 11 [16 favorites]


You can get postcards in the gift shop.

That there is a gift shop at Auschwitz seems a heck of a lot worse, tbh.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:41 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


People do what they will do, but it certainly isn't OK with me. I don't know which concentration camp(s) sited the murder of my mother's extended family, but Auschwitz is a good bet.

How would these folks feel if the police took selfies at the scene of a murder involving their family or friends? Or perhaps at their graves?

But hey, if being there isn't enough to clue these folks into the fact that not taking selfies is basic etiquette for showing respect, I don't know what would.
posted by bearwife at 11:42 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


A selfie is evidence to other people that you have been to a place. And that's generally fine. I'd hope that a visit to Auschwitz is something that makes its mark inside you, and is evidenced by a change in the way you relate to the world, not by a photo.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:43 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


the fact that not taking selfies is basic etiquette for showing respect

Asserting that something is "a fact" is not making an argument to support the claim.
posted by yoink at 11:44 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


I don't see taking a picture at a death camp with yourself that different than writing a journal entry about your presence there and how it made you feel and what you were doing

Yeah, and I really do feel it's to each their own.

But for me, taking a camera out and looking through a frame... it feels distancing. Why come all that way just to put distance between yourself and the place you are? I'd feel just as weirded out by someone live-tweeting an WTC visit as taking a photo.

A journal entry happens after you've had some time to digest your experience.
posted by mochapickle at 11:44 AM on July 11


Given that the selfie-takers that spurred the question were Israeli, it is quite likely that portions of their extended family were also murdered there. I'm not sure why their interpretation of respect is automatically less worthy than yours, bearwife.

While it personally makes me wince, given the associations of selfies in current culture, I really can't think of any logical, coherent reason why it is worse than taking photographs at Auschwitz at all. So I recognize it's basically spinal reflex, not rationality. And there's something to be said for the "you didn't win! here I am, and happy!" statement at such places.
posted by tavella at 11:47 AM on July 11 [9 favorites]


Asserting that something is "a fact" is not making an argument

True. My argument is in the previous two paragraphs of my comment.
posted by bearwife at 11:47 AM on July 11


There's a median close by to where I work, where last year a young person was T-boned by a dump truck and killed.

There's been a makeshift memorial there since, slowly shifting to announce the corresponding holidays: Halloween, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, even a birthday.

I remember seeing the story on the news the night I had to detour around this road which had been blocked by emergency vehicles.

I often pass this tiny memorial and wonder what they were like, who is maintaining this display, and get an inevitable chill knowing that the ground I stand on, the trees which sit near the road, and the grass which is growing.... witnessed the violent and sudden death of someone who is sorely missed.

I would imagine to this person's loved ones, that a smiling photo of me leaned in, head partially blocking a faded teddy bear and the state placed "DRIVE CAREFULLY" placard, would be incredibly painful and crass. Not that I would ever do that.

Still, since I noticed it, I keep an eye out for this memorial. Recently, I noticed there was no update for Independence Day, and it kind of made me sad.

I know that people move on... Tragedies, both great and small, will fade from the minds of future generations, to be replaced by new, more pressing ones.

There's another roadside memorial before a hill on the way home.

I only noticed it when I was riding my bike home from work, as there's just a broken glass candle on the ground. The white sign, partially hidden by overgrowth, and rusted around the edges, reads: "DRIV AREFULL."

I chuckled the first time I saw it, a couple years ago, and thought something along the lines of "Yeah, I bet they drove awful..."

Now... it just makes me melancholy.


Today's Auschwitz is tomorrow's Colosseum.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:49 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Okay, selfies themselves may not necessarily be wrong at a place like Auschwitz, but can we at least agree that letting your friend take a picture of you giving a smiling two-thumbs up in front of the crematorium is a little bit gauche?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:49 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


None of the articles linked are "get off my lawn", I think they're actually curious in a supportive way about the phenomenon (which probably owes as much to self-facing cameras as it does to any seismic shift in how people conceptualize themselves in relation to the world).

From the first article:
The heart of selfie photography in historic sites is perhaps personal imagination; it is less what we look like—and what a historical site “really means”—than it is about what we imagine we look like and what a historical site means. One of Thurnell-Read’s subjects touring Aushwitz focused on imagination and said he “liked that it was underdeveloped, the fact that it was in ruins, again, the faculty of mind, it helps, because you had to conjure up images yourself which made you think more.” Historical selfies certainly harbor some normative ideological effects ranging from visual representation of the self to the guise of attractiveness that shapes how many people view selfies, and in some spaces we may expect some codes of dignity. Nevertheless, historical selfies simultaneously reflect a telling if idiosyncratic effort to visualize and give meaning to a personal tourist experience.
posted by Rumple at 11:49 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand the hoopla around selfies

"Seflie" is the new "hipster". A term who's genuine cultural relevance peaked and faded years before the media got hold of it, but for some reason has taken hold of our collective conciousness.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:57 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


reminds me of that great quote:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyselfie.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:00 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


You can take a self portrait if you want to document that you visited the place. No issue with that. But I would expect for a place like Auschwitz you would look pretty somber.
posted by linux at 12:02 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Today's Auschwitz is tomorrow's Colosseum.

I second that the turmoil is because it's still such a raw and new tragedy for a lot of people, combined with new technology and modes of sharing. I have worked with human remains in museum collections used for educational programs and people want to take photos with them all the time: selfies, parents of their kids, joking poses, whatever. The Colosseum was also a place where hundreds (thousands maybe-- far fewer in any case than the camps) died, and it was later also a place of burials. People take a lot of photos there, sometimes with crude and crass poses. But it's a lot older and the weight of those deaths is diminished, I think, for many visitors. I don't take a lot of selfies and if I take pictures at a site or in a museum, it's generally for research, but I'm not really in a place to judge how or why other people are taking photos or remembering or experiencing something. I think the hashtags in a lot of these are pretty terrible, but then again teenagers and frankly adults can often be petty and terrible. Maybe for them the lesson of being at Auschwitz is one they still are learning. Banning selfies won't make reflection an easier goal.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:03 PM on July 11


Maybe they're all really happy that genocides in most western countries don't happen anymore? Most.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:04 PM on July 11


But for me, taking a camera out and looking through a frame... it feels distancing.

And then you put the camera down after snapping your shot but reality is forever irrevocably distorted ?

Relevant XKCD
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:04 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


But for me, taking a camera out and looking through a frame... it feels distancing. Why come all that way just to put distance between yourself and the place you are? I'd feel just as weirded out by someone live-tweeting an WTC visit as taking a photo.


For me, it gives me a perspective, allowing me to place myself (physically and emotionally) within the contexts that I'm present. It is distancing, but not always in a bad way.

A journal entry happens after you've had some time to digest your experience.

I've seen a decent amount of writers take out a pad a scribble down something when experiencing something profound.

I guess, I feel the same way about this as I do about people photographing tomb stones (their relatives/friends/strangers). We don't always have to be serious to be sad or sad to be somber, and graveyards can be even appreciated for qualities other than the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:06 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Contemporary portraits are sometimes somber, sometimes not as much. (There are a bunch more, but fuck if it isn't depressing to wade through them, and I excluded ones that are specifically joyful because of the liberation.)

Selfies (or portraits) in front of the scene of an atrocity can be pretty gauche, but similar to how I feel that treating Nazis or Hitler as unvarnished evil, I'm hesitant to make a sweeping pronouncement about how people should react.
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 PM on July 11


Questions that should be, but aren't, being distinguished here:

1. opposition to Holocaust tourism in general
2. opposition to gauche, clueless, or irreverent Holocaust tourism
3. opposition to Holocaust tourist self-photography as objectionable in itself
4. opposition to Holocaust tourist self-photography that documents seemingly gauche, clueless, or irreverent behavior

This is packaged as if it were a controversy about #3 but it seems to me like the bulk of the arguments both in this thread and in the links are really about the other questions. Without even taking a position on either selfie etiquette or Holocaust-tourist etiquette, it's clear that there's a lot of emotional spillover from the latter to the former muddying the waters here.
posted by RogerB at 12:10 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


And then you put the camera down after snapping your shot but reality is forever irrevocably distorted ?

Relevant XKCD


That's really less than generous, Pogo. I never said I was annoyed or had an opinion of what other people do. Just me.
posted by mochapickle at 12:13 PM on July 11


The tumblr of grindr profile pictures taken at the Berlin Holocaust memorial is really interesting. This, like the pictures from Auschwitz, seems to me to be kind of ... reclaiming. You know... here I am, a Jewish person in Auschwitz. Here I am, a gay German at the Holocaust memorial. They didn't get rid of us. We are still here.

Especially taken in the aggregate, I think they're kind of powerful.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:15 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure how a selfie at Auschwitz is any more or less inappropriate than a "here's me standing next to some artifact of the Holocaust" photo that some other person took of you. I find those sorts of photos gauche as hell, but I'm no more prepared to tell someone how to experience Auschwitz than I am to be told that whatever it is I am doing at the moment is experiencing it wrong.

Coming to terms with what a place like Auschwitz represents isn't brief or easy and regardless of what a person does there, there's no coming away from a concentration camp without it weighing on you in some way. I'm pretty sure when I toured to Holocaust museum as a dumbfuck kid, I may very well have cracked a joke at something you're not supposed to but goddamn if what I saw there isn't going to stick with me for life.
posted by griphus at 12:18 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


This is nothing new. People will always have bizarre reactions to places like Auschwitz. I went there when I was eighteen, one of the things I'm profoundly glad that I've done in my life. I found Auschwitz itself oddly clinical - a lot of it is behind glass, museumified.

When I was in one of the rooms there where they have piles of children's shoes, human hair, suitcases, clothing, piles up to the ceiling, there was a middle aged American man in a Tilley hat with a camcorder. He was walking around videoing each of the glassed off sections of the room, with a running commentary.

"And this is a glass case which is full of human hair. It's reaching waaaay up to the ceiling here. And this is a case that's full of shoes."

I stared at him for a while, then decided that either this was how he understood what he was seeing, or how he defended his own mind from the horror of it, through a tiny black and white camera lens. Or perhaps he was videoing for someone back home who could not make it all that distance.

In any case, I decided to walk away.

Later, we went to Birkenhau. I found Birkenhau far worse. It is vast. So, so large. There are Stars of David carved into the bunks, names, scratched out dates. The incinerators are collapsed, blown up by the guards before they retreated from the Red Army. In the woods beside the incinerators, there are photographs of people, standing by the same trees, waiting to be murdered. One of them, right up close to the camera, was about the age of my brother at the time, only three or four.

I sat down in the grass and I wept.

Selfies at Auschwitz? Fuck no. Because if there's one thing war in the 21st century has taught us, it's that where there's a cameraphone and a human body, someone will take a photo, sometimes a selfie, to show they were there, to show what they did. ISIS take selfies as they shoot people in ditches. The Nazis would have, if they'd had cameraphones at Babi Yar.

Take a photo to remember, if you need to. But don't insert yourself, no matter how sombre the shape you form your face muscles into. It's not about you. It's about remembering.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:29 PM on July 11 [18 favorites]


Maybe it's a matter of degree. The very notion of visiting a site of mass murder seems a little ghoulish to me. Maybe I'd feel different if the ashes of my relations rested there. But in that case I'm sure I wouldn't be taking selfies.
posted by night_train at 12:32 PM on July 11


I thought about it a bit and I guess since I wouldn't feel right about making a value judgment on a Cambodian who took a selfie at Tuol Sleng next to a photo of a dead relative then I probably shouldn't make one here, at least wrt actually Jewish tourists. I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong way to react/respond to tragedies that have affected you personally even when removed by a generation or two.
posted by elizardbits at 12:34 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


That's it, Happy Dave. That's what I want someone to say to the person taking that selfie at Auchwitz. "This isn't about you."
posted by benito.strauss at 12:36 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I was at the 9/11 memorial recently. Large crowd. Some people taking duck-faced selfies, others having their picture taken while looking somber. I'd wager the latter had a very personal connection to the site and I don't begrudge them that.
posted by mazola at 12:38 PM on July 11


Also there is an excellent chapter in Susie Gilman's book Hypocrite In A Poofy White Dress about being a young goofy tourist at Auschwitz and her subsequent freakout after assuming it would be okay.
posted by elizardbits at 12:40 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


That's what I want someone to say to the person taking that selfie at Auchwitz. "This isn't about you."

This would be so, so much more a shitty and rude thing to do than taking a selfie. It's fortunate that I doubt anyone with sense in their head would have the gall to do it.
posted by griphus at 12:42 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


griphus: "This would be so, so much more a shitty and rude thing to do than taking a selfie. It's fortunate that I doubt anyone with sense in their head would have the gall to do it."

Oh, I don't know. If I saw someone doing a duckface on their iPhone at the gates of Birkenhau, I'm fairly sure I'd say 'Have some fucking respect'.

I'm not saying people shouldn't take photos. Or indeed that people shouldn't have photos of themselves taken in places like Auschwitz, if it helps them deal with a personal connection to the place.

But goofing around with a cameraphone in a place where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered? Yeah, I'd call that out.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:49 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Let me know how the young Israelis respond to that.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Yeah ever since I got a loud, nasty, extremely vicious public lecture from my late mom's boyfriend for laughing with a group of her friends at her funeral (all of whom were guiltless of any wrongdoing, the only worthless piece of disrespectful shit that was screamed at in public was me) about various funny incidents from my mom's life, I don't really make value judgments on how people mourn.
posted by elizardbits at 12:56 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


Lack of respect is lack of respect, regardless of who's doing it.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:56 PM on July 11


Except, obviously, about the people who scream a spittle-flecked rant on how you're doing it wrong.
posted by elizardbits at 12:57 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


I'm Scottish. It would likely be a loud tutting sound.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:58 PM on July 11


"Yeah ever since I got a loud, nasty, extremely vicious public lecture from my late mom's boyfriend for laughing with a group of her friends at her funeral (all of whom were guiltless of any wrongdoing, the only worthless piece of disrespectful shit that was screamed at in public was me) about various funny incidents from my mom's life, I don't really make value judgments on how people mourn."

My family's funerals are almost always on the spectrum of "Celebration of life," and combined with my immediate family's penchant for using black humor as a coping mechanism, the idea that selfies at a funeral is beyond the pale seems really alien and presumptuous to me.
posted by klangklangston at 1:01 PM on July 11


As we discovered with Newt Gingrich, a photo at Auschwitz doesn't have to be a selfie to raise eyebrows.

I've visited Auschwitz. And after about 20 minutes there felt like I could scarcely breathe, much less galavant around taking thumbs-up photos. It's pretty hard to go to any of the camp monuments and feel anything other than sorrow, at least if you're paying attention. But I don't see why that obviates taking a respectful photo documenting you were there.

Part of me admires the resilience and humor of teenagers taking ironic or humorous photos at Auschwitz. I think it's odd and dangerously close to disrespectful, but who am I to say how someone processes such overwhelming grief in a place like that?

All I came away with was a depressing sense of how nearby the horror of state sponsored genocide is, close enough to touch. I'm feeling it now. No amount of selfies is going to change that.
posted by Nelson at 1:12 PM on July 11


That there is a gift shop at Auschwitz seems a heck of a lot worse

Depends - do they sell snow globes?
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:16 PM on July 11


At this point in time Auschwitz is a socially constructed space designed to preserve a memory. But different people bring different things to it. Maybe there's a close family connection, maybe there's a distant family connection, maybe a religious connection, maybe just a human connection. Maybe it's a school trip destination.

Who "owns" the appropriate behavior in such a space? elizardbits, I liked your story about your mother's funeral (although it's horrible). I would think that someone can mourn a mother's passing however they please.

Say you visit Mao's mausoleum in China. Now on one hand many people view Mao was a mass murderer, but on the other hand you're a visitor in someone else's space, so probably the appropriate thing to do is to show respect as the site seems to demand.

I guess I reject the idea that there's some truly objective appropriate way to behave. In particular, it's a bit high-and-mighty to think of someone clowning around at some historic site as showing disrespect to the *victims* who died there. The victims don't care. They're showing disrespect to *you*, the person who's carved out a place in their minds that this site is sacred and that as a result there's a particular way to behave here. Which leads to the question, do *you* own the idea of appropriate behavior here? Maybe you do and maybe you don't.
posted by leopard at 1:16 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


NYT Style Section: "Is It Wrong To Take A Glelfie At Bergen-Belsen?"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:17 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


The Nazis would have, if they'd had cameraphones at Babi Yar.

Oh, they took photos at Babi Yar. You can find them easily if you search.
posted by asterix at 1:20 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I don't expect anyone would give a shit, but I'd probably say it. Not some spittle-flecked rant, elizardbits, I'd just look at them and say "It's not about you" and then go on. (Just because someone reminds you of something horrible doesn't mean you get to lay the responsibility for that horrible experience on them.)

I wonder about the wisdom of official school trip shuttling teen-agers out to Auschwitz. Teen-agers are goofy, school trips encourage the goofiness. Teen-agers are used to teachers telling them Must Be Serious; teachers saying that This Thing Is Even More Really Serious is just asking them to act silly. So of course they're going to duck-face and double thumbs up. Israeli kids have spent even more time being told about Really Serious Things, and Israeli teen-agers can be goof-offs too.

So life goes on. Teen-agers are squirrelly and old farts tell them "this place is different". I'm usually incredibly respectful of others in public. I'll take on being the shitty and rude guy at Auschwitz telling people it's not about them.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:22 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I'd just look at them and say "It's not about you" and then go on.

And they'd stand there and discuss the guy that just told them "it's not about you" and then it becomes even less about Auschwitz and about you instead. And now, the most memorable thing about their experience at Auschwitz may very well be about Some Guy and not, well, Auschwitz.

"It's not about you" applies just as much to anyone deciding to chide someone for their behavior. You have not been chosen by the dead to arbitrate the emotions and actions of others on their behalf because they are insufficiently somber. What gives you the right to inject yourself and your opinions, unasked, into someone else's experience and memories of a concentration camp?
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on July 11 [14 favorites]


There's a similar phenomenon at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Germany in Berlin being a staple of grindr profile pictures and Gmail wallpapers.

Having been to Auchwitz and many other sites and memorials I have conflicted feelings about the subject, I'm clear that the yolo pics are clearly in bad-taste and are certainly a world away from most people's experience of visiting the camps.

As a visitor going in one can understand the weight of history, the atmosphere and the aesthetics of the place and how that turns into the urge to take pictures, not only to capture the experience but also as a way of mediating the experience too.

Given this it didn't surprise me that by far the biggest crowd in the whole of Auchwitz is the spot where people can look up and take a picture of "arbeit macht frei" against the sky and that this image might be considered the defining image of the experience for most people.

While the Holocaust is hugely important event in the history of the twentieth century, places like Auschwitz appear both "real" and "unreal" and in staying largely intact are a tangible link to the things that happened there, but also draw you in to the otherworldly nature of the place that goes entirely beyond your experience, and draws you back into the films you've seen and the books you've read so that it feels like a stage set to a terrible drama.

As a European two generations removed from WW2, making sense of the holocaust in contemporary Europe is terribly complicated. As an Englishman, living with a Lithuanian and with a German best friend our understanding of the meaning of the holocaust is hugely contestable.

As a Brit the holocaust is a story of suffering but liberation, for my German friend evidence of the corruption of old national ideals, while to the Lithuanians another example of the waves of violence and suffering experienced by those caught in the crossfire of WW2 the meaning to us as individuals and communities across Europe is entirely different.

What fascinates me in this article is the way the coming generations of 21s century Europeans will see these events and likely to change even more in the further we get from the events and the language and culture of commemoration develops, of which we move away from the two minutes silence towards the world of the funeral selfie.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:49 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


This is a bit of a circular argument. You say nobody has the right to enforce any base standard of behaviour. I say nobody has the right to visibly and wilfully break those standards of behaviour, for the lulz. Whether they or I have the right or not, people will still do it.

But it's stlll true that it could deeply affect someone who is at Auschwitz for a deeply personal reason, or who finds themselves very moved by visiting, as I did, to see someone behaving outside of a quiet and respectful baseline of behaviour. People are not rational in such circumstances. It would make me viscerally angry.

The argument here is not about who should be enforcing what. It's about where that baseline is, where we can all get along without getting in each other's faces. Because the act of taking a thumbs-up duckface selfie at a site of mass murder is every bit as provocative as someone marching over to lecture someone for laughing at a funeral. Unless we're all going to visit these places alone or in individual capsules, we need to have respect for each other's experiences, within a baseline. And I think selfies of the kind we're talking about here fall well outside the baseline.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:51 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Taking a selfie probably isn't the worst thing that's ever happened at Auschwitz. Unless it involved doing that duckface thing.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:16 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


> What gives you the right to inject yourself and your opinions, unasked, into someone else's experience and memories of a concentration camp?

The exact same right that someone else has to inject their indie album cover shot or gang sign selfie, unasked, into my experience. It's a public place, there's no getting around it.

> You have not been chosen by the dead to arbitrate the emotions and actions of others on their behalf because they are insufficiently somber.

It's not the lack of solemnity that bothers me. If someone wants to do a rousing chorus of "Heil, Heil, Right in the Fuhrer's Face" that's fine with me. People will mourn and engage with tragedy in lots of different ways. It's people who aren't engaged at all that would bother me.

And I assume we're not talking about all photos of any kind. Heck, not even all selfies. Some gay Jewish dude taking a pic of himself flipping the bird, "You'd kill me twice and I'm still here fuckers" — I'd love that. I'm talking about selfies that are self-absorbed and oblivious to their surroundings.

> the most memorable thing about their experience at Auschwitz may very well be about Some Guy, and not, well, Auschwitz.

If what they remember is some guy giving them the stink-eye, and not the photographs of skin covered skeletons jumbled like scrap wood, I don't know how much chance there was of them being affected in the first place. Either way, I don't mind adding "Man, what was that dude so upset about anyway?" to their experience.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:47 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Especially taken in the aggregate, I think they're kind of powerful.

This is also how I feel. The fact that these are almost entirely Israeli kids is important. It's their prerogative to decide how they want to engage with the place: it's their personal history. If they're a little irreverent towards the spectre of Auschwitz, I can't entirely see that as a bad thing.

If these were kids without any personal connection to the place, yeah, I'd want to give them a talking to about respecting other peoples' histories and pain. But I don't see how scolding Jewish kids about how they need to behave at Auschwitz is really the best option here.

This reminds me of one passage I really liked in The Fault in Our Stars, when the main characters (two young people with cancer) spontaneously kiss at the Anne Frank museum and the POV character is worried that everyone will be appalled at their disrespectful behavior. As the reader, you can tell everyone else in the room sees it as this gesture of young love and hope that's appropriate to Anne's memory. Intentional or not, it's defiance in the face of what the Nazis were hoping to accomplish. Maybe I'm just a romantic who reads too much into selfies, but so be it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:49 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


That there is a gift shop at Auschwitz seems a heck of a lot worse

Its not really a gift shop in the sense you imagine. It looks more like an old fashioned wooden kiosk a librarian or bureaucratic office would have. Dark wooden shelves, lots of books and prints. Has a sense that it hasn't been dusted in years.
posted by infini at 3:50 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]




If someone wants to do a rousing chorus of "Heil, Heil, Right in the Fuhrer's Face" that's fine with me... Some gay Jewish dude taking a pic of himself flipping the bird, "You'd kill me twice and I'm still here fuckers" — I'd love that.

Yeah that's all great, but if a teenager goes around thinking "God this class trip is depressing, I'm glad I'm alive now and not then" and then takes a picture of themselves the way they always do, that's just unacceptable and off-limits? And we want you on that wall, we need you on that wall tut-tutting them for their unacceptable reaction to something that happened 75 years ago, because although you're not exactly assassinating Hitler and killing Nazis and saving innocent people from being tortured to death, it's simply the best you can do today?
posted by leopard at 4:54 PM on July 11


It's not unacceptable, and it's not off-limits. I'm not talking about prohibiting anybody from doing anything. But I'm going to say "You're missing something."

And I guess I'm not so sanguine about it all being 75 years ago.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:12 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


That's a surprisingly long list of genocides given that they all happened (a) after the establishment of the Auschwitz Museum (b) before the creation of modern smartphones that enabled easy selfie-taking. I might need to rethink what prevents genocides from happening.
posted by leopard at 5:18 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I once visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial with my family. I remember getting extremely angry with my mother because she wanted me to pose for a picture there. I didn't mind others who wanted themselves in a picture at those type of sites (there may be a small amout of internal judgement though). But I sure as hell didn't want to participate in it myself.
posted by weathergal at 5:20 PM on July 11


So leopard, you're pointing out that even when people were incapable of being diverted by taking selfies, the existence of the museum at Auschwitz didn't prevent genocides from happening. And from that we are supposed to derive, what? that the Auschwitz museum is useless so we might as well get rid of it? I can't follow what you're saying.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:42 PM on July 11


I saw whole troops of grinning uniformed scoolkids taking pictures of themselves in front of the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima, with their teachers. Meanwhile, I was practically having a horror panic attack. People are different. I think that's ok. (Even more ok if I don't have to look at their pictures.)
posted by zennie at 7:14 PM on July 11


It was a response to this comment: "And I guess I'm not so sanguine about it all being 75 years ago," coupled with your remarks about "Heil, Heil, Right in the Fuhrer's Face" and "You'd kill me twice and I'm still here fuckers" being completely awesome responses to Auschwitz that you would just love to see. Oh, and your link to a long list of genocides in the second half of 20th century.

I suppose all this is supposed to lend incredible moral weight to your viewpoint. But at the end of the day, thinking "this is horrible" and then going back to everyday life is what virtually every visitor to Auschwitz does. So you're not sanguine about genocide, exactly how does this impact your life? I don't understand what's so great about saying "fuck you Hitler," does it forge a deep bond between you and a child who was brutally slaughtered?
posted by leopard at 7:19 PM on July 11


Okay, it's all worthless. Just as useless as you telling me I'm a puffed up posturer. I don't know how to convince you that anything is worth remembering if that's your take on it.

Ah, to heck with it. Enjoy your life.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:28 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


mochapickle: "I don't get why a visit has to be photographed at all to be remembered."

I can't speak for everyone but I have a pretty poor memory. Photographs allow me to anchor my memories. And considering the shifting nature of memory they also allow for concrete proof to myself (discounting any CIA/Alien efforts to change my photographs) of what things looked like at any particular time within the limits of the medium.

I'm not much for the handheld selfie but I certainly use a tripod or improvised tripods to record my visit to places in a here's what I looked like when I visited this place kind of way. But that is likely to be one of many photos I take of a place.
posted by Mitheral at 2:17 AM on July 12


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