Four years ago, I visited Berlin as part of my History and Politics studies. I was taken aback by the beauty of the country and the incredible architecture everywhere you looked. A city so rich in history; every corner has a memorial, a site or a view of war-torn German history. Yet, what struck me the most was the behaviour of tourists at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, otherwise known as the Holocaust Memorial.
Designed by Peter Eisenmann, the memorial stretches across 19,000 square feet and is simply, yet poignantly, made up of 2711 concrete slabs of varying heights. The concrete blocks are ordered into a grid-like pattern, supposedly intending for visitors to feel uneasy in an organised system; chaos amongst order, if you like.
The memorial, which was inaugurated in 2005, has often been the centre of various debates, including its lack of acknowledgement of other victims of the Holocaust, and its lack of visible memorialisation. Nevertheless, perhaps the greatest debate here is the blatant lack of respect displayed by those who choose to visit the memorial.
People from across the globe flock to the site daily to take pictures of themselves at the memorial. Ranging from selfies, to jugglers, from yoga poses to prancing atop the blocks, visitors continuously miss the point of the memorial, and continue to plague the honour of those who lost their lives all those years ago.
A place of reflection for so many, it has been argued that sitting on, or between the blocks, allows people to truly feel as though they can remember those of whom are memorialised. However, it is difficult to justify the behaviour of so many who simply see the memorial as an aesthetically pleasing, Instagram-able location.
So shocked by this behaviour, one member of the public even decided to take matters into his own hands by photoshopping these social media posts into real images from the Holocaust and publishing them on his website, ‘Yolocaust’. Suddenly the juggler is amongst dead bodies and the selfie taker is in the foreground of starving prisoners. Whilst this is a dramatic approach, it succeeds in shedding light on the possible insensitivity of this latest social media craze. A craze which encourages forgetting history in favour of likes and popularity.
Of course, this movement is not limited to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Similar behaviours have been seen at concentration camps, the 9/11 memorial and museums dedicated to awful periods of history. Whatever happened to looking with your eyes and not through the camera lens? Why must people behave in such a way that dishonours the courageous people who we, in fact, should be remembering, and praising?
My words won’t be enough to change this habit; a habit I find so ugly and unworthy. However, I hope this prompts you, the reader, to think again before posing at places of huge historic worth and instead remember where you are, and how lucky you to be alive.