August 20, 2019

Remembering Prewar Jewish Life

“When one first hears the term “Holocaust tourism” there can be an urge to shudder, or even an unsettling feeling of anxiety.

But the rather strange turn of phrase describes a stark reality — Holocaust history is a thriving global tourist industry attracting millions of visitors per year.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular destination is Auschwitz. Since being liberated by Red Army troops on January 27, 1945, over 44 million people from across the globe have visited the former death camp located in what was Nazi-occupied Poland. An estimated 1.1 to 1.3 million victims — 960,000 of them Jewish — were systematically killed by the SS there over approximately four years.

Over the last seven decades, tourists seeking to understand this dark epoch of Jewish history have grown exponentially. In 1946 around 100,000 people visited Auschwitz. By 2014 that figure peaked to almost 1.5 million annually.

Indeed, Holocaust memorial sites in Poland — and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe — have largely come to dominate what scholars, educators, travel writers and memorialists now commonly refer to as Jewish heritage tourism.

The question is whether there is a cultural cost for tourists viewing certain parts of the map of Central and Eastern Europe almost exclusively through the dark prism of the Holocaust, especially as many of those tourists are Jews seeking to understand their own complex history.”

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