How do people behave when they visit a concentration camp or a Holocaust memorial?
Do they act as if there are in place of reverence or mourning? Or do they behave as crowds do at any tourist attraction — taking selfies, goofing around, snacking and drinking as they amble along?
Just what constitutes appropriate behavior at a Holocaust memorial site has been a hot topic recently. Last month, the Israeli-German writer and satirist Shahak Shapira reignited the public debate about “Holocaust tourism” with a website “shaming” tourists who appear in flippant selfies taken at the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Shapira’s site, titled Yolocaust, superimposed smiling tourists with gruesome images from the Holocaust, such as piles of corpses.
“I find it dangerous that this is becoming normal,” Shapira told a German news program shortly before shutting down the project, saying it had served its purpose. “It kind of suggests that people are not dealing with the real purpose of this memorial.” (...)
And now the behavior of tourists at Holocaust memorial sites — and the tough questions surrounding it — is explored in a probing documentary film, “Austerlitz,” by Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa. The film will have its U.S. premiere at the Museum of Modern Art’s Doc Fortnight festival on Sunday and Monday in New York City, but it has already garneredpraise after showings last year at major international film festivals in Toronto and Venice.
Presented without commentary, the 90-minute black-and-white film is a series of long, lingering shots of tourists walking around Dachau and Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp near Berlin. Loznitsa placed stationary cameras around the camps, capturing thousands of visitors sauntering in and out of the frame. It is unclear whether Loznitsa hid his cameras, although the tourists seem oblivious to them.
Most of the visitors seem as if they are walking in a shopping mall or perhaps an art museum. They mostly look aimless, restless, tired and bored. Some laugh and smile as they file into a room, like they are headed to a party. Some stand out due to their unfortunate sartorial choices — one wears a T-shirt with an image of a skull, another with the phrase “Cool story, bro.” Some take smiling selfies or lighthearted group photos in front of Sachsenhausen’s “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate.