As I witnessed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where tour buses list the Nazi death complex as just another sightseeing attraction, genocide commemoration and vacations often don’t mix.
There is a world of difference between walking through the actual historical site (or more accurately, a mass-murder scene) and seeing a well-intentioned memorial site thousands of miles from where the Holocaust took place. As scholar James E. Young points out in his phenomenal book, The Texture of Memory, putting a memorial in the public arena is a confrontational act. It forces people to think — even for a moment — about a time and place where bloodthirsty psychopaths set the rules determining whether you live or die.
And when Holocaust memorials are located in the tourist areas of Paris, Rome, Berlin, Budapest and Prague, they happen to be on the same streets where Jews were dragged from their homes and stuffed into cattle cars.
Boston, of course, has no such direct connection. But I’m still horrified when I see people treat the New England Holocaust Memorial like an ordinary piece of modern art. Teens sometimes skateboard through the glass towers, which represent the deathcamp chimneys. And I saw a birthday party held there DURING a memorial ceremony with Holocaust survivors present.
I believe there is very little intentional disrespect in play at the Boston memorial, which is only steps away from the city’s tourist epicenter of Faneuil Hall.
Nonetheless, more can be done to prevent it from becoming a glorified skateboarding park.
Next week is Yom Hashoah and Holocaust Remembrance Week. What do you think can or should be done to educate pedestrians about the meaning of Holocaust memorials or any monument commemorating tragedy?
Without ambushing them.
Check out my suggestions at “Learning, Laughter & Light,” my wife Stacy’s Jewish education blog.