My name is Haley Ogoy and I’m from Juneau, Alaska. Currently at Luther, I am studying Health and Management.
Over the past two days, we have immersed ourselves into what we have learned to be “Darkest Tourism” defined by William Miles, in Auschwitz: Museum Interpretation and Darker Tourism, as we have visited and toured the grounds of Auschwitz I (yesterday) and Auschwitz II-Birkenau (today).
Erik Mandsager spoke on some of the readings we had done in preparation for this course, and some of the specific sites we have been to thus far. Erik also gave a brief intro on how dark and darker tourism are defined by Miles and gives it context in relation to the sites we have visited.
I have made the decision not to include any photos of our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau out of respect to Jewish values, tradition, and to the families who come to this place in remembrance. In Jewish tradition, the photographing of Jewish cemeteries (or burial grounds) is not permitted. Auschwitz-Birkenau was a concentration-extermination camp. More than 1.5 million Jews perished there. There were many other groups that fell victim at Birkenau, but 90% of them were Jews from Hungary. There is only a few grave stones to mark this act of genocide. One of the reasons for this is we still don’t know all the names of everyone who was murdered at this camp. Personal items and paperwork belonging to victims that could provide identification were destroyed, so there is no way to know the names of all who died due to starvation, exhaustion, gas chambers, or illness.
Another aspect of Jewish tradition is placing stones on graves as opposed to flowers. In visiting these different Holocaust memorials, we've seen these stones placed at the various memorial sites to honor Jewish victims. This presented the memorials in a different way to me, as each stone was representative of a human life that that was taken by the Nazi’s. At Auschwitz-Birkenau it was particularly difficult to process that this was the location of mass murder. There was little representation of the number of murdered prisoners that lived there. Between two of the crematoriums, there was a memorial to the victims. On this memorial, there were twenty panels (in different languages) to represent the diversity in victims.
As we have traveled and visited different memorial sites, one of the things we have grappled with as a class is the idea of these sites of “darker tourism” and memorials as cemeteries. One of the questions we are struggling with is ‘how is actively engaging in dark tourism in relation to the Holocaust? Why are we so intrigued by this?’ Though I can't answer this question for everyone, I have come to think it is because there is no possible way to understand how, or why something as horrific as the Holocaust occurred. It is hard to come to the conclusion that I will never be able to answer these questions for myself. Recognizing and honoring the people that lost their lives and dignity is something I can do— and that’s something our time here at Auschwitz-Birkenau has put into perspective for me.
To end our stay at the Centrum Dialogue in Oświęcim, Poland, we were treated to a performance from a youth theater program from Oldham, England. The members of this group ranged from 14 to 21 years old. The performance was very moving as it addressed the role and power that words can have in our lives. This was a very touching end to our time here in Oświęcim and it is a memory we will look back on and cherish as it lightened our hearts from the horrific events we learned about at Auschwitz-Birkenau.