One of the packages includes a bar crawl through Krakow, a visit to a lap dancing club, followed by a tour of the former concentration camps sites the next day. I was astonished at how disrespectful this would appear to be to the victims of the atrocity. One states “If you want to tick the culture box at least once on your visit to Krakow, there can be no better place to do it than the site of Auschwitz concentration camp. It’s a full-on three hour museum and site tour and it blows your mind.”
My motivations, and those of the others visiting Poland, couldn’t be further apart from the motivations of those coming to the country with stag parties to Auschwitz. This particular example got me thinking a lot at the time, is it right that the site is even open for visitors or should it be destroyed and be resigned to the past? I personally lean towards the viewpoint that the site must remain open to serve as a reminder of the Nazi atrocities whilst also serving as a memorial to all victims of the Holocaust.
On the site a memorial exists with the following moving inscription: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.”
For me this quote best sums up why Auschwitz must be preserved to remember the Holocaust, but I can understand why the viewpoint exists that the camp should be destroyed, and perhaps it would have already been forgotten without the visitors each year. This is because each year approximately 5 million Euros are needed to maintain the site. Most of this is covered by the Polish state and revenues from publications and guided tours. In 2009 Germany donated 60 million Euros to the global fund which aims to ensure the future of the World War II site as a permanent memorial to the Nazis’ victims, whilst the British government in the past has also made sizeable donations to the fund.
In the case of Auschwitz, remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust must surely be the primary motivation to any visitors of the concentration camp site. Whilst an unhealthy morbid fascination may drive many towards Auschwitz and other sites of atrocities around the world, it is perhaps through the medium of film that the Holocaust is best explained and contextualised to a wider audience. Films such as Schindler’s List, The Pianist and more recently The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas are widely available to the general public and present the facts in such a way that ensures the Holocaust remains in the collective public memory.
Auschwitz is only one such site around the world which serves as an example of a site for ‘Dark Tourism’ which includes any site associated with the personification of death.
The main draw to these locations for many is the historical value rather than their association with death and suffering. Millions of tourists flock to both sites of natural disaster such as the island of Pompeii and sites of human atrocities like Auschwitz or the secret prisons of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia each year. In January 2011 the Ukrainian government legalised tours of the site of Chernobyl and the purpose built Soviet town of Pripyat built to house workers and their families. This may not come as much of a shock but in the summer the Ukraine is co-hosting the 2012 European Championship. The Euro’s are expected to attract 1.4 million people to the country for the football with the nation hoping to capitalise on the influx of tourists by directing them towards the tour of the site of the nuclear reactor’s explosion.
Whether this is a good or bad thing is not for me to judge, but there is no doubt that dark tourism is more than a historical phenomenon, sadly it seems to be a profitable venture attracting tourists to parts of the world which are off the beaten track and will always remain to do so.