Ticia Verveer
Ticia Verveer
Archaeologist, writer טיציה וארואר

Word choice matters

The film Game of Tag has been proven to be filmed at the gas chambers of the Stutthof site. It was shot in 1999 by Artur Żmijewski, and exhibited in Krakow in 2015, despite Israeli objections. The film shows men and women running around laughing at the extermination site, where more than 60,000 people were killed. Poland’s interior minister Mariusz Błaszczak has instructed his country’s prosecutors to follow up on an investigation into how a video featuring a naked game of tag came to be filmed at a former Nazi death site in the country. The vulnerability of Shoah memorial sites has been proven throughout time. The ability of people on social media, and in public life to say whatever comes to mind, and not to be held accountable, is going beyond all standards of what is right or decent.

In all areas of economic, social, and political life, new moral identities are developing through social networking sites. There is on social media a deliberate, and very well organized, sophisticated assault on facts, reason and evidence. We have known for a long time that the web is a haven for racist organizations and Shoah deniers. In my opinion, we have not begun to take full advantage of the medium, as an educational tool to manage Shoah remembrance, to prevent assaults on truth and to protect evidence of the mass extermination of Jews. But our expectations and hopes for Shoah education must still fit within realistic models of today’s society. Perceptions of the Shoah continue to change, influenced by the world’s social and political situation.

These different types of social awareness have changed the remembrance of the Shoah. The Shoah remembrance is not just education, but part of a larger system, that expands while managing it. That “butterfly effect” can influence seemingly unrelated results elsewhere. For instance, when you are making travel arrangements to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, you will find tours promoting their services, using lines as ” Not enough time for visiting all Krakow’s must-see places? Now, it is possible to visit both– Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Salt Mine in one day with no compromise on Your trip itinerary,” or ” The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, where around 1.5 million were killed by the Nazis, is definitely a must-see place in Poland.”

I remember one particular website, that still gives me chills today, with the text “Getting to Auschwitz from Krakow is not that hard at all. Train to Auschwitz: the most reliable, yet not direct means of transport.” and ” Find out what thrilling discoveries await you at the museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.” Words have energy and power, and carry more influence than you might think. Shoah deniers minimize and distort facts, the Nazi’s themselves were deniers. Travel agencies must present transparent, and respectful documentation targeted to different groups or individuals. Using travel and tourism terminology in relation to extermination sites, trivializes the Shoah. Visiting an extermination site does not automatically bring an understanding of the suffering of the victims. The travel and tourism industry transmit values and norms without meaning to.

In a context where the Jewish minority has been in large part, if not entirely, destroyed, and its voice silenced, collaboration within and between the memorial sites, the public and private sectors is needed. Starting into conversations like this are important and complex, and should be investigated. The gathering, monitoring, and analysis of data is crucial for ensuring that ‘tourist friendly’ documentation is respectful and carefully chosen. Due to lack of Shoah awareness and knowledge, there always remains the threat of erroneous claims, distortion of facts, misappropriation of the sites, wrongful exploitation, as well as trivialization of the horrific crimes committed during the Shoah. The Shoah must never be turned into a business venture.

About the Author
As an archaeologist, Ticia Verveer has over 20 years of excavation experience in the Middle East, the Sahel, and North Africa. She is Maternal Health Ambassador for Global Fund for Women, one of the world's leading foundations for gender equality. Ticia is a descendant of Abraham Salomon Cohen Verveer, the grandfather of Holland's most important Jewish Romantic painter, Salomon Leonardus Verveer (1813-1876).
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