On Visiting Auschwitz and Dark Tourism

In May, we went to Krakow, Poland for a Couchsurfing Event, and to try to squeeze in three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The salt mines, the city square, and the concentration camp.

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Auschwitz wasn’t much of a place to bring a toddler. Ryder was the only kid under 12 there. He raced around the buildings, screamed, and in other words probably acted inappropriate, which wasn’t his fault of course, but ours for bringing him. He wasn’t the only reason I wondered if going was a mistake, though.

You see we’ve already done the concentration camp visits. We’ve even met family members of victims of genocide in Rwanda and Guatemala.

It’s no longer so incredible to me that mass murder can happen.

I’ve long since stopped believing violence is ever the answer to disagreements between nations, peoples, religions. I no longer want to listen to how it’s justified. One person’s holy war is another person’s genocide. One person’s patriotism is another’s support of government-approved massacres.

And I guess I question the need to be a tourist at these incredibly sad places, like munching popcorn while watching a horror movie instead of acknowledging that this thing goes beyond words or a day spent off a tourist bus.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to come observing what was the worst day of someone’s life—as someone says whose sister disappeared on 9/11 and her disgust at the tacky museum there now on site in NYC.

I came home and learned there’s a definition for this kind of thing.

Dark tourism: Travel to sites typically associated with death and tragedy. Also known as black tourism or grief tourism. Disaster, slum, and war tourism all are included.

Yet there is still some compelling draw for me. History often is made from these pivotal moments. Hiroshima in Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and others have a pull for the fact that their stories been part of our modern lives.

I’ve started to rethink my motivations for going to these type of sites. Is it necessary, is it helpful? Is there some lesson to be learned or am I just going for my own perverse entertainment?

In his final goodbye to his wife in Breaking Bad, science teacher-turned drug dealer Walter White says in response to her statement:

“If I have to hear – one more time – that you did this for the family…”

He says:

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.”

By seeking out these dark tourism experiences, I wonder if we are wanting to feel one step further from death, one step closer to feeling…understanding? Hope? Progression as a society? Or just something, anything at all, in order to feel and to be alive.

The jury’s still out for me as to whether these dark tourism experiences do that or just bring me to helplessness with the futility of the magnitude of human suffering which is so utterly preventable and yet which continues daily. And perhaps even worse, the knowledge that some people walk away from these experiences somehow thinking the violence or tragedy was justified, or that retribution is needed, and that the cycle will continue.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 361 awesome articles for us.

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