There are many positive things about social media. Selfies, or photos of themselves, taken by young people at Holocaust sites and memorials are not among them.
The German version of Vice magazine collected and published a bunch of these totally tasteless Instagram posts to drive home the point. Don’t read German? No worries. You just need to know how to read pictures—and, of course, also hashtags—to understand just how offensive this stuff is.
Check out the one of the girl giving two mitten-clad thumbs up at Auschwitz-Birkenau. “Thumbs up if you’re chilly willy #krakow #poland #auschwitz # birkenau #tour #travels #holidays #chilly #willy #ww2 #worldwar2” is how she tagged it.
There’s also the one of the girl who lined up her photo to make it look like a Star of David was growing out of her head. “#juden #arbeitmachtfrei #treblinka #zyklon B #feelgood.” Hey, don’t we all feel good when visiting sites of mass murder?
How about the one of a couple of guys “#chillin in #dachau,” or the one of the girl in a mini-dress posing at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial making sure everyone notices the important stuff—the “#chelseaboots”—she’s wearing.
Which of these other photos taken at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial is more appealing? The one of the girl jumping for joy at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial exclaiming “#holocaustmemorial #berlin #blocks #jump #tourist #happy #girl #weeeee”? Or would it be the picture tagged “#instacaust”? Hmm. It’s a toss up.
Despite how absurd this stuff seems, it really is happening. Samantha French, a 20-year-old New Yorker studying at the University of Sussex in Britain reports that she saw people taking these kinds of photos while visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 2012.
“…I saw a few tour groups just for school kids in which they were all taking pictures of themselves smiling in front of just about everything they saw, from the display of artificial limbs that had been recovered in the camp, to the wall in front of which many prisoners had been shot execution-style, to actually inside what remains of the gas chamber (despite a clear sign outside banning photography within the building),” she says. “In my own tour group, we had a couple who I think might have been Scandinavian who again did not put their cameras away throughout the entire tour.”
“In short, I think it’s disgusting,” French said. But, having studied the effects of social media, she isn’t surprised by this disturbing trend. “It is so easy to sway what people think of something just by joining a conversation about it on social media, and I think really that’s why this trend of people Instagramming photos of themselves by Holocaust memorial sites has become okay,” she explains.
“If one 12 year-old sees her friend do it when she goes to visit a memorial, she’ll think it’s acceptable to do that, as well, and so the snowball gets rolling. It’s just unfortunate that the people who know that making light of such serious issues is not okay aren’t as present in social media as kids with poor judgment.”
A new Israeli social media meme caught my eye yesterday. Although it was in Hebrew, I felt as though I had seen a version of it in English at some point. It reminded me of the “Unimpressed Native American” meme. You, too, may have come across this meme in your Facebook feed recently. It’s the close up black and white photo of an elderly Native American man in traditional dress. Superimposed on it are cynical and ironic messages like, “The banks take away your home and land from you? That must be tough.”
Instead of a Native American, the Israeli meme has an elderly keffiyeh-wearing Palestinian man staring at the camera saying the same kind of things, only in the Israeli context. It became apparent once I did some digging, that the similarities are not coincidental. “It was the result of an idea by Eli Levin to create an Israeli version for the ‘Unimpressed Native American’ meme,” Shahar Even-Dar Mandel wrote me in an email from Tel Aviv. “After some brainstorming in a ‘secret’ Facebook group, named Oumipo, that included other Israeli meme creators Amir and Shlomit Mahlab Schiby, Itamar Sha’altiel, Ido Kenan and Avgad Yavor, as well as Eli and myself, the concept and the particular photo to be used were chosen,” the 40-year-old physicist explained.
The “Cynical Palestinian” says things like:
If you weren’t on Facebook this weekend, then you probably missed a huge love fest going on between Israelis and Iranians. As would be expected, the governments of the two countries were not proclaiming their undying devotion to one another. Rather, it was ordinary Israeli and Iranian citizens who were expressing mutual admiration and a hope that war between their two nations can be avoided.
It’s amazing how quickly good will and gestures of solidarity can spread in the Internet age, even between peoples who generally have nothing to do with one another. On Saturday night, two graphic designers, Israeli couple Ronny Edry and Michal Tamir uploaded photos of themselves superimposed with a logo saying, “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We ♥ You” to the Facebook page of Pushpin Mehina, a small preparatory school for graphic design students. In no time, others were copying the meme and the Facebook page garnered a thousand “likes.”
No sooner had the Israelis started posting their own versions on the Facebook and the “Israel Loves Iran” blog, than the Iranians came up with their response. By Sunday, they were uploading photos with the logo, “ We ♥ You, Israeli People. The Iranian People do not like any war with any country.” While some posted personal photographs, others utilized historical examples of benevolence by Persians and Iranian toward Jews. One was of a photo of the Mausoleum of Esther and Mordecai in Hamadan, Iran. Another was of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, the “Iranian Schindler” who helped 2,000 Iranian Jews flee France during the Holocaust. Yet another had the seal of Cyrus the Great, the ruler of the Persian Empire from 600-530 BCE, with the tolerant proclamation: “I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate others’ rights.”