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Source: The Guardian, November 12, 2014

Nicki Minaj has apologised for the offence caused by her new video, which was inspired in part by images “representative of Nazis”. The rapper explained that although the clip for Only includes animated images evocative of a Leni Riefenstahl film, she would “never condone Nazism in [her] art”.

Minaj’s comments followed a statement from video director Jeffrey Osborne, who insisted he would not “apologise” for his work “or dodge the immediate question”. Yes, the film’s “flags, armbands, and gas mask (and perhaps my use of symmetry?) are all representative of Nazis”, he told MySpace, but he reminded viewers that the clip also draws from American, Russian, and Italian iconography. “As far as an explanation, I think it’s actually important to remind younger generations of atrocities that occurred in the past as a way to prevent them from happening in the future,” he went on. “If my work is misinterpreted because it’s not a sappy tearjerker, sorry I’m not sorry. What else is trending?”

In her own statements, Minaj claimed Osborne was “influenced” by the Sin City franchise and the Cartoon Network series Metalocalypse. And to burnish her anti-Nazi bona fides, she stated that A Loucas, the producer of the video, is Jewish. “I didn’t come up w/the concept, but I’m very sorry & take full responsibility if it has offended anyone,” she wrote.

Only is definitely a victim of bad timing: it was released on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. But the Anti-Defamation League also highlighted the way Minaj herself assumes the role of Führer in the video. “This video is insensitive to Holocaust survivors and a trivialisation of the history of that era,” wrote the League’s US national director, Abraham H Foxman. “The abuse of Nazi imagery is deeply disturbing and offensive to Jews and all those who can recall the sacrifices Americans and many others had to make as a result of Hitler’s Nazi juggernaut.”

Only is the third single from Minaj’s forthcoming album The Pinkprint. It debuted at No 35 on the UK singles chart.


Source: Arutz Sheva, November 4, 2014

Australian writer Lily Brett on Tuesday won France’s Prix Medicis literary award for best foreign book for “Lola Bensky,” a novel drawing on her experience both as a 1960s rock journalist and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

Brett’s sixth novel tells the story of an eponymous heroine who arrives in London in 1967 and proceeds to interview the biggest names in music, from Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix and Cher.

Soon, however, she starts to wonder if the questions she is asking are in fact substitutes for questions about her parents’ past.

Reacting to the award – announced to the press at a Parisian restaurant - Brett told reporters she was “ecstatic.”

“I am so proud to have won this prize,” she said. “I first came to Paris when I was almost two years old. My parents were survivors of Nazi death camps and we were here on the way to a new life.”

“I have a photograph of myself on a carousel in (central Paris district) the Marais and I look overjoyed. You can see I already loved this city,” she said.

Brett said that, like her character Lola, she too had been sent to London as a rock journalist in 1967.

Without the ever-present managers and PRs that surround stars today, she was able to get close to many of them, she said, adding that it was a conversation with Jimi Hendrix that provided the idea for the book.

“I was sitting in Mick Jagger’s apartment…discussing hair curls with Jimi Hendrix,” she said. “We both had very curly hair. His much more curly than mine and that led to the basis of ‘Lola Bensky.’”

Brett’s Jewish parents, Max and Rose, were both sent to Auschwitz during World War II. Both lost their entire families during the conflict and the novelist has said her father grieved over his dead relatives throughout her childhood.

“I lived in a house where the dead were more present than the living,” she told a journalist in 2012.

Some of the people Brett interviewed as a rock journalist would soon be dead themselves, and because of her own family background they struck a cord with her.

“It was a short time after the war, the 1960s, (and)…I was in the middle of a whole lot of people who were hurtling towards their death,” she said.

“They didn’t know it – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix – they were all going to be dead in a few years and I came from people who were struggling to live and who had been surrounded by death so it was a very, very meaningful book for me to write,” she added.

The winner of the Prix Medicis’s main category, meanwhile, was French author Antoine Volodine, for “Terminus Radieux” (“Radiant Terminus”), set in Siberia in the aftermath of nuclear disaster.

Volodine is the main pen name for a writer – a former professor of Russian - who also goes by the names Elli Kronauer, Manuela Draeger and Luitz Bassmann. Under the name Volodine he has written around 20 novels.


Source: Huffington Post, November 1, 2014

(RNS) As aging Holocaust survivors gathered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to celebrate its 20th anniversary last year, a question hung in the air:

How will the world remember the Holocaust — the Nazis’ systematic murder of 6 million Jews — when the last survivors are gone?

It’s a question Joshua M. Greene, the writer and producer of “Memory After Belsen,” grapples with in his new documentary that will premiere at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York on Nov. 20 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

“The further we get away from the actual events of history, the more difficult it will be to stimulate interest, the more difficult it will be to avoid the Holocaust fading into ancient lore,” said Greene.

That concern is echoed by Jews and Holocaust educators around the world.

“There is nothing that can truly replace the impact of meeting with someone who has gone through this experience,” said Elizabeth Gelman, executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum. “We see that everyday here. Junior high school kids and high school kids come in, wiggling and poking each other. It’s just an excuse to get out of school. And then when they sit down, and a survivor starts talking, they are laser focused.”

At its New York premiere, the 76-minute film will be screened in its entirety. But Greene and director Shiva Kumar made “Memory After Belsen” so that it can also be watched in segments, to make it easier for high school and college teachers to show it in parts to classes on the Holocaust that may stretch over days or weeks.

Greene and Kumar make the point with Memory After Belsen, but also with footage taken by Allied troops who liberated the camps and clips from popular movies, that film can capture Holocaust memories.

They also shows how artists, writers, musicians and museum curators have documented and interpreted the Holocaust for future generations.

But Greene and Kumar seem most intrigued by one particular way to preserve memory — through the grandchildren of the survivors.

The film follows Robyn Thaler Hickey, whose grandmother was the lone member of her family to survive the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Hickey’s journey to the camp, now a memorial, begins with her plane ride to Germany. Wearing jeans, hipster glasses and a ponytail, she snaps pictures of the land below with her smartphone, wondering in a voiceover about the place where her grandmother’s family lies in mass graves.

And she wonders about her responsibility to get her personal history right.

“If I have kids one day, what story am I going to tell them?” she asks. “And what if I got it wrong. It would be really upsetting if I got it wrong.”

Holocaust educator Tracy Garrison-Feinberg explains, at the end of the film, why everyone — Jewish or not — should ask Hickey’s question.

“I’m an African-American Southerner. I’m a Catholic . . . this is not my history,” she said, putting those last words in quotes with her fingers. But “we are capable of great evil and we are capable of great goodness and grace,” she continued. “Ultimately it’s my history, because it’s human history.”

Her answer raises a further question tackled by the film: Should the Holocaust be taught as a unique or universal experience? Does it stand alone, or with other genocides?

Greene, whose own grandmother was one of two members of her family to survive the Holocaust — the others died at Auschwitz — said he believes the Holocaust teaches universal lessons.

But the risk of universalizing the Holocaust “is to strip it from its particular horror” and perhaps fail to understand its breadth and scope, said Greene who teaches religion at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Let’s not broaden it too much, he warned, “in the name of some abstract concept such as ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’”


Source: The New York Times, September 30, 2014

A chilling disconnect runs through “The Decent One,” Vanessa Lapa’s relentless, numbing presentation of letters, diary entries and high-quality period footage that illustrates Heinrich Himmler’s rise from patriotic child to position of horrible power in the Third Reich.

The film’s juxtaposition of Himmler’s correspondence and German history is complex and fluid. His fussy reports about work and his love letters (signed “Heini”) rattle and offend with their untroubled banality. Read aloud in sometimes spirited voice-over by actors, they can instill a feeling of powerlessness before the deadly march of events. As Himmler’s life and an entire nation’s course are charted, the telling details that arise — routine bigotry, the fierce urge to serve, righteous family bonds — have a way of explaining everything and nothing.

Yet this steady stream becomes rough going. Ms. Lapa’s sources, acquired for the making of this documentary, are unusually rich (and their very quantity helps to dramatize the bureaucratic side of Nazi atrocity). But the voice-over-driven readings and the illustrative footage — unwisely augmented with new sound effects — lack a fundamental filmic momentum.

Many freshly haunting and illuminating undercurrents are brought forth all the same — for example, the Himmlers’ consideration of how to treat a child they have adopted. A possibly reassuring note is struck in the credits, which reflect the efforts not only of Ms. Lapa, granddaughter of survivors, but also of Himmler’s own great-niece. —Nicolas Rapold

Further reviews on Salon and Variety


Source: ABC News, October 15, 2014

Images of emaciated and mangled bodies from recent history in Syria were publicly displayed for the first time Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, documenting the work of a former Syrian military photographer who defected and has testified in Congress about witnessing mass killings.

A small exhibit, entitled “Genocide: The Threat Continues,” features a dozen images from an archive of 55,000 pictures smuggled out of Syria. The photographer, codenamed “Caesar,” testified in July that he witnessed a “genocidal massacre” and photographed more than 10,000 bodies as part of his job. He warned a similar fate could befall 150,000 more people who remain incarcerated by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Some images at the museum show dozens of bodies lined up or piled atop one another with their faces obscured. Others show the effects of depravation and torture, including electrocution, gouged out eyes and removed genitals, said Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide. They’re powerful images, and viewers are immediately reminded of the Holocaust, he said.

“They show a side of the Syrian regime that hasn’t really been really seen. You might have heard about it, read about it, but when you’re confronted with these images, they’re impossible to ignore,” Hudson said.

The museum relied on forensic examinations of the photographs conducted by the FBI and by former prosecutors and forensic experts of the International Criminal Court to verify the authenticity of the images. The U.S. State Department has cited the FBI’s examination as well, though the results have not been publicly released.

Syrian opposition groups hope to use the images to prosecute Assad’s regime for war crimes.

The photos were shown to the U.N. Security Council in April. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the images “indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing.”

Syria’s Justice Ministry dismissed the images as “lacking objectiveness and professionalism.”

At the museum, the images of Syrian corpses from detention centers share striking similarities with those of concentration camps during the Holocaust, Hudson said, showing evidence of starvation and emaciated bodies. They are the result of long-term detention, not battlefield deaths, he said.

“You don’t wither away and die like that on a battlefield” Hudson said. “You don’t get that in a matter of days or weeks. It’s months and months of depravation that causes the human body to wither away like that.”

Daniel Sturm, 23, of Portland, Oregon, visited the museum for the first time Wednesday with his mother. He follows news out of Syria but said he and most people don’t know what’s happening on the ground. So he was impressed to see the images, he said.

“When you look at that, that is absolutely systematic killing,” Sturm said. “No emotion to it. Just ‘let’s get rid of that situation.’”

It’s important to remember genocide didn’t end with the Holocaust and is a real threat in Syria, Hudson said.

The museum decided to exhibit the images for the foreseeable future because its scholars have long studied how witnesses who escaped Nazi Germany and reported atrocities to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other officials in Washington, only to be ignored.

“We realized that this person, Caesar, the Syrian who escaped, he was a witness,” Hudson said. “We felt an obligation to tell his story as someone who showed real courage in coming forward and escaping and trying to tell the story of what he saw.”


Source: Howard Cohen, Miami filmmaker finds ‘Treblinka’s Last Witness’ for powerful Holocaust filmMiami Herald, October 17, 2014

Documentary filmmaker Alan Tomlinson’s first reaction to WLRN general manager John LaBonia’s pitch for a film about the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland was muted.

“Another film about the Holocaust? It’s kind of been done,” the Miami TV producer/director behind documentary features Nixon’s the One: The ’68 Election (2010), Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami (2008) and Plagues: The Ebola Riddle (2001), said of his initial feeling.

“As a filmmaker, what can I add to this? I’m not even Jewish. You’re kind of in tricky territory and it’s a delicate subject.”

But LaBonia, eager to continue WLRN’s mission as a storytelling channel rather than one completely reliant on public broadcasting’s national feed, felt he was on to something. Tomlinson’s resulting feature-length movie,Treblinka’s Last Witness, which offers a first-hand account by the last-known living survivor, premieres on WLRN-17 at 8 p.m. Oct. 28. The film will be previewed with a free public screening and discussion at 6 p.m. Tuesday at downtown Miami’s Olympia Theater at Gusman Center.

The journey from idea to opening began for the WLRN team in 2010, when LaBonia visited the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. There, he spotted an exhibit that displayed a boxcar from the Treblinka camp, where an estimated 900,000 Jews were slaughtered over a period of 13 months at the height of World War II.

Wedged into the floorboards sat a little girl’s gold ring. Did it slip off or was it purposely wedged there for safekeeping by an innocent youngster who figured she’d return to claim the jewelry at a later date?

Who knows? But LaBonia was struck by the image and compelled to conduct research.

The story of Treblinka, he felt, would resonate with South Florida viewers, since many Holocaust survivors and their descendants have called the region home.

But finding a survivor to recount the horrors would be difficult. The Nazis went to great lengths to cover up their crimes at Treblinka. Bodies were exhumed and burned on pyres of railroad logs, and trees were planted on the grounds. Unlike work camps like Aushwitz and Dachau, where remnants of gas chambers revealed their ghosts, Treblinka hid hers for more than half a century.

“A lot of people, myself included, were not aware that the Nazis also constructed a bunch of death camps where there was no warehousing of Jews. No working Jews. No work plan. No factories. Just gas chambers. Just industrial killing machines to kill large numbers of Jews,” Tomlinson said.

That was Treblinka. Jews, by the thousands, were packed onto trains and deposited at Trelbinka in the morning. The people thought they were simply there to be recolonized. By lunchtime, they would be dead. Men first. Women and children next. Cold and efficient.

“The largest attempted cover-up of a mass murder in the history of mankind,” said Andrew Hall, 70, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and, as an infant born in war-torn Warsaw, a Holocaust survivor.

Tomlinson, who earlier served as a correspondent for the BBC in his native England, became excited when he heard of the existence of Samuel Willenberg, now 92 and the last known living survivor of the Treblinka death camp.

Thanks to the Internet, Tomlinson tracked Willenberg to the home he shares in Tel Aviv with his wife Ada. Two days after Ada answered his phone call, he was on a plane to meet Willenberg.

“During the Nazi occupation I met lots of people and I have learned to read people. Tomlinson is a person I could trust, and I had a good feeling toward him,” Willenberg said in a telephone interview through an interpreter.

Willenberg, who grew up the son of an eminent Jewish painter, helped ensure that Treblinka’s Last Witness would resonate.

“You see, in Holocaust films you have people sitting in round chairs, with a lamp in the back, telling this story with a huge emotional remove because it’s too painful to go there. For very good reason, interviewers treat these people with kids’ gloves because you are taking them back to a place where no one wants to be,” Tomlinson said.

“Samuel wasn’t like that. He’s a born survivor and a storyteller. I’ve been a journalist since I was 16 and I’m in my 60s now, so I’ve heard a lot of stories. My jaw fell open,” Tomlinson said. “It was such a staggering story. And not only was he able to illustrate his story verbally, but he told it with such a cocktail of emotions flowing through his body. One minute he was angry. One minute in tears. One minute laughing, telling some cynical joke about life in Treblinka. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him as he was telling his story.”

Willenberg and his family had lived in Czestochowa, Poland, when the Germans marched into their country in 1939. The family went into hiding, but his two sisters were captured in 1942. Willenberg fled to nearby Opatow but was herded, along with the town’s entire Jewish population of 6,000, aboard a cattle train bound for Treblinka. Within hours, all would be dead. Except Willenberg. A member of a nearby Jewish work camp recognized him and pulled him aside to join a labor force.

There, while sorting through clothes that once belonged to Jews and were to be sent back to Germany for the war effort, he recognized a pair of green velvet sleeves on a coat. He could never tell his parents, who survived the war, that he knew his sisters had been murdered.

Willenberg escaped and managed to make his way to Warsaw, where he took part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. About 16,000 fellow members of the Polish resistance were killed, and the city was mostly destroyed.

Willenberg’s voice on the phone line tumbles out vibrantly in his native Polish. He attributes his survival skills to his plucky youth in pre-war Europe.

“This actually derived from my wild childhood. When I was a young boy I was a naughty boy. I’d sometimes run away and play hooky from school and take trains and even hid between two wagons and would travel through Poland.”

After the war, he fashioned a series of 15 bronze sculptures ranging in size from 18 inches to 3 feet that depict fellow Treblinka Jews. For years, the sculptures huddled in a basement in the couple’s Tel Aviv home. Daughter Orit, an architect who designed the Israeli Embassy on land once occupied by Hitler’s Third Reich in Berlin, has also designed a museum for a memorial on the Treblinka site. One of Willenberg’s goals is to raise enough funds so that the museum can be built and he can see his sculptures integrated into the site.

“It is an amazingly compelling story about personal courage and heroism,” Hall said. “The film will play an important role because it prevents us from forgetting and therefore from repeating. It’s an important message — the ‘bearing witness’ concept that is so important to Jewish people.”

Willenberg takes on the role of pleased film critic.

“They have made eight movies about me so far. I believe this movie is the best of them all,” he said. “This movie has reflected the true tragedy and what the world will gain is that people will learn the truth of this tragedy.” —Howard Cohen


Source: The Telegraph, October 17, 2014

Spanish fashion outlet Mango is the latest high street chain to find itself in midst of a social media outcry surrounding its choice of design.

A white women’s blouse featuring a recurring black lighting motif bears a striking similarity to the runic insignia of the Schutzstaffel (SS) – the Nazi party’s protection squadron. The double lighting symbol was a common feature on clothes worn by Nazi officials, as well as on Nazi flags.

Mango marketed the blouse in Germany, where the choice of the design has made headlines in the tabloid press. The outcry spread quickly elsewhere on social media and caused hundreds to take to twitter to ridicule and protest the design, and the controversy surrounding it.

Some twitter followers were quick to dub the blouse as part of the “Eva Braun collection”, referring to Adolf Hitler’s partner.

Mango’s page featuring a model wearing the blouse together with trousers and shiny black ankle boots included a purchasing prompt urging the buyer to click on ‘I would like the total look’ button (‘Ich moechte den Total Look’).

This too provoked references to Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbel’s infamous speech, where he addressed the crowds with the rallying cry ‘Do you want a total war?’ (‘Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?’ )

Mango representatives responded to the accusations via twitter in German, saying that it “regrets the unfortunate association which was caused by the design of the blouse”.

The fashion chain also pointed out that the shirt was also available in designs dotted with “hearts and stars”.

The scandal follows the condemnation Zara received after a set of striped pyjamas with a yellow star appeared in its collection.



Source: Vanessa Gera, Haaretz, October 16, 2014

AP – They were both Holocaust survivors from Poland who suffered through unspeakable tragedies. But when director Roman Polanski and producer Gene Gutowski teamed up in the 1960s they never spoke of the war, preferring to focus on life by making movies and partying hard.

Even when the two reunited decades later for the 2002 Holocaust film the “The Pianist,” they didn’t talk about the horrors they had seen.

On Thursday, a new documentary about Gutowski’s improbable wartime survival premieres at the Warsaw Film Festival, directed and produced by his son, Adam Bardach.

Gutowski didn’t even speak about his past for years with his three sons, telling them the truth only when they were adults: that he was Jewish, that most of his family perished and that the name Gene Gutowski was an assumed identity that helped him survive WWII.

“For many years, I was living in absolute denial as far as being Jewish was concerned,” Gutowski, 89, said in an interview at his home in Warsaw this week. “I just didn’t wish to pass the burden of the Holocaust on to the next generation. It’s very painful.”

Slowly, he opened up. Finally he wrote a memoir.

“Dancing Before The Enemy: How a teenage boy fooled the Nazis and lived” is a joint journey in commemorating the lost family of cultured Jews from the eastern Polish city of Lwow, today the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“It wasn’t a secret that the family members were all lost,” said Bardach, a 44-year-old based in Los Angeles. “It was just a question of how and why, and who they were as people.”

Gutowski was born Witold Bardach in 1925 into a family of lawyers, doctors, concert pianists and army officers. They lived a charmed life of privilege until 1939, when World War II broke out, bringing first the hardship of Soviet occupation to eastern Poland, followed by a German occupation that spelled genocide for the Jews.

After his mother was sent to the death camp at Belzec, young Witold knew he couldn’t survive if he stayed in Lwow. So he went to Warsaw, all alone at 15, struggling to pass as an Aryan.

Relying on evocative historical footage and interviews with Gutowski, the 65-minute film traces his life during the war until the liberation, when, thanks to knowing English, he worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the Americans tracking down Nazis in postwar Germany.

Today, he credits his knowledge of German and a huge dose of luck and chutzpah for his survival. Those traits gave the hungry teenager the courage to walk into German-only restaurants in Lwow, yell “Heil Hitler!” and sit down to a good meal.

Later he went to the work for the German Luftwaffe in Warsaw, stealing radio transmitters for the Polish underground, an activity that nearly got him killed.

When he was being hunted by the Nazis for stealing the radio equipment he was given shelter by his Polish girlfriend’s mother, a dentist, who procured the documents of railway worker Eugeniusz Gutowski, who had died in an accident.

As he learned of his family’s past, Bardach, formerly a Gutowski, took on his father’s original name.

“I didn’t want the Bardach name to end,” he said. “I felt very proud to be related to the Bardach family. They were people of substance with incredible stories of bravery.”

Gutowski, who is pleased at his son’s name change, says that was not an option for him once he became known in the film industry.

His collaboration with Polanski began in the 1960s when he produced three of the director’s now classic films, “Repulsion,” ”Cul-de-Sac” and “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” Despite being friends who speak Polish together, the two men never discussed their own wartime experiences, Gutowski said.

Polanski escaped the Krakow ghetto, assumed a false name to survive and lost his mother at Auschwitz.

Still, while working on “The Pianist,” Polanski relied on Gutowski to help recreate Warsaw street scenes under the Nazi occupation and to cast actors, determining who should be a German, a Pole or a Jew. Only thin actors could portray starving Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Gutowski remembers the pain that returned to both of them during the filming of certain scenes. In one, Nazi guards randomly forced old Jews to dance together to a street band, one of the sadistic ways they dehumanized Jews before killing them.

“I remember sitting there with Roman and we were both crying,” Gutowski said. “It just brought back the horror of it all.”


Source: The Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2014

The works of Patrick Modiano, the French author awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, deal frequently with the experience of Jews under the collaborationist Vichy Regime in World War II occupied France.

His works also deal with the ambiguous role played during the Holocaust by ordinary Frenchmen, including their role in deporting Jews to Nazi camps.

Modiano, whose father came from an Italian-Jewish family, was awarded the $1.1 million prize, the Nobel committee said, “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

Born in a Paris suburb soon after the end of World War II, Modiano, 69, has written more than two dozen novels, as well as children’s books and screenplays, but relatively few have been translated into English. While famous in France, he is little known in the United States.

His first novel, “La Place de l’étoile,” was published  in 1968 and was, in part, about a Jew who engaged in shady activities during the Nazi occupation.

He also co-authored the screenplay of Louis Malle’s acclaimed 1974 film “Lacombe, Lucien,” which focused on a young man who joins pro-Nazi French collaborators after being rejected by the anti-Nazi resistance, but then falls in love with a Jewish girl. “Dora Bruder,” published in 1997, traces the life of a girl deported and killed at Auschwitz.

“I have always felt like I’ve been writing the same book for the past 45 years,” he told a news conference after the award was announced on Wednesday.


Source: Lilit Marcus, #Holocaust selfies are inevitable if you turn solemn sites into tourist trapsThe Guardian, October 9, 2014

I’m a travel writer, and I’m Jewish. That means that, whether I’m writing about them or not, visits to Jewish sites – including museums, synagogues, and restaurants – are often an important part of any trip I take. But there’s one kind of Jewish site in which I have absolutely no interest in visiting: a concentration camp.

I know many people for whom visiting a concentration camp is a serious act or even a triumphant one. A few years ago, a viral video of a camp survivor and his grandchildren dancing around at Auschwitz to the tune of “I Will Survive” had me crying at my desk. For people whose families perished at these places, the visits are mournful and a way to pay tribute all the ones they’ve lost. And events like last month’s excavation of the gas chambers below the camp of Sobibor show that former concentration camps need to be preserved as evidence of what happened there.

But even when the concentration camps and other Holocaust-related sites themselves are presented with respect and dignity, not every visitor acts accordingly. The American basketball star Danny Green’s “#Holocaust” selfie he posted on Wednesday from Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is hardly the most offensive: I’ve seen far too many photos of people smiling, waving and throwing gang signs in front of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at Auschwitz. A friend came back from a visit to Dachau, telling me about the tourists who had taken cheesy selfies in front of prisoner uniforms. And earlier this year, the American college student Brenna Mitchell’s self-described “Auschwitz selfie” went viral and launched many conversations about what is and isn’t appropriate taste at such serious historical sites.

For some people, a visit to a place like Auschwitz isn’t about paying respect or learning about history – it’s simply yet another “must-see attraction” they’re checking off in their guidebook, a thing to be Instagrammed, like the Mona Lisa or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Holocaust is so visceral and wrenching to me that I’d rather opt out of visiting a camp altogether than run the risk of having to interact with the people who will treat it like an attraction at Disneyland.

Thanks to work by historians, scholars, artists and activists, there are thousands of ways that I can (and do) learn about the Shoah. But I don’t need to see where people were murdered in order to grasp its gravity – and I especially don’t need to see those killing fields when they’re full of tourists stopping in on their way to the beer garden.

In a short story by the late writer Leonard Michaels, the main character – a Jewish mathematics professor named Nachman – attends a conference in Krakow, Poland, where he is assigned a tour guide who tells him that she is taking him to Auschwitz because she’s aware that some of his family members were there. Nachman, however, has another idea. “I don’t want to tour Auschwitz,” he tells the guide. “I would like to see the ghetto, particularly the synagogue.” In other words, he wants to see where they lived, not where they died.

It’s that idea – I want to see where they lived – that drives my personal Jewish tourism. Everyone has their own way of remembering the past, of committing it to memory. Mine is to see the places where Jewish people lived, where they thrived, where they fell in love and baked apple cakes for Rosh Hashanah and held Passover seders and taught their children to read Hebrew. Concentration camps are anathema to that. I’m glad that many have been preserved, so that there will be always be reminders of the horrible atrocities that humans visited on other humans. But I’ll never go there myself. –Lilit Marcus


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