Hi everyone! My name is Anne Wilson. I am from Zumbrota, Minnesota and a sophomore studying religion and music. We have finally come to the last leg of the trip: the long flight home! The flights have given me ample time to reflect on the trip as a whole, and looking back from day one to this last day, we have had many impactful experiences. It is nearly impossible for me to reflect on every aspect and every monument or museum we have visited, so I have carefully picked some of the monuments and museums that affected me the most, and left me questioning what it means to be a dark tourist.
The most impactful exhibit that I saw was a newer exhibit within Auschwitz I in Oświeçim, Poland, called the Shoah exhibition. When you first enter the building, you go directly into a room that has videos being projected on every wall along with music and other audio playing in the background. This room is dedicated to the life of Jews before the Holocaust. The projectors continuously ran these videos showing families having dinner together, children playing in the street, families and friends going on holiday at the lake, people singing and dancing, and doing many other 'normal' things. This room radiated happiness. I think I found this specific exhibit the most effective because I couldn’t look away from any of it. Every wall had a video or photo being projected onto it, and the music in the background was overwhelming. This exhibit shows tourists that the six million Jews that perished in the Holocaust had normal and happy lives. This is also where I began to question the ethics behind dark tourism. These people had lives that were thriving before the rule of the Nazi Party. I found myself struggling with the question of ethical spaces after leaving Auschwitz I as well.
An article we read by Laurie Beth Clark touched on the topic of ethical spaces, and the limits associated with them. How far can we go in transforming these sites into memorials? She states that transforming a trauma site to a memorial site comes with difficulties as well. What do curators do with the space? At Auschwitz-Birkenau, much of the original material was left. At Auschwitz I, several exhibits were incorporated into the original barracks left from the war, such as the glass cases of shoes, hair, and luggage. This is another site where I questioned what it means to be a dark tourist. Is it ethical for me to visit these sites, such as Auschwitz I, where several of the buildings have been renovated to incorporate different exhibits to be more appealing to the public? Is it right to change this site to evoke a more “traumatizing” experience? The answers to these questions are unknown, and I may not be able to answer them right now, but this leaves me with more time to reflect on my experience as a dark tourist.
The last exhibit that I found extremely impactful was the Topography of Terror in Berlin, Germany. This exhibit contains hundreds of pictures of Nazi perpetrators. What makes them especially interesting is that they are viewed from the eyes of a perpetrator, which could be a Nazi official, Gestapo officer, etc. It was a unique experience viewing these photos from this perspective. The building in which this exhibit was located was the former site of the headquarters of the Gestapo (Nazi Police). This brought the whole experience together because we were viewing these photos through the eyes of the perpetrators at the site of their old headquarters. In an article we read by Judith Kielbach, she explains that many of these photographs must be left uncaptioned because any attempt to explain the photo in words would constrain it. I found this to be very true while looking at the photos because every photo had so many details and so many possible stories.
The Topography of Terror Museum and the article by Kielbach showed me that we should never attempt to explain the complexity of any photo or object on display from the Holocaust. As for myself, I will never understand the full complexity of the Holocaust, no matter how many museums, exhibits, or memorials I go to see. I will always be left with more questions, but having the opportunity to be a dark tourist these past three weeks has been extremely memorable, and an experience I will never forget.
After nearly 30 hours of travel, a diverted flight, and lost bags, we are finally back home in the Midwest. Our group had a great time getting to know each other and exploring Europe all while learning so much about the dark past of the Holocaust. If there are any reamining questions about a topic or site we discussed throughout the blog, feel free to reach out to our blog coordinator, Katie Hendrikson. We are excited to be home and look forward to starting spring semester in a little over a week. It was a pleasure for our class to share our experiences with you-- thank you for following along with our blog!