27th of January. International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The art project YOLOCAUST encites further thoughts. In the following comment, Gregor describes his thoughts about it. If you have different thoughts or opinions, please share them with us.
I’m clicking on the link. The letters YOLOCAUST are popping up. I am seeing happy people in between a grey surrounding. In the same moment, my youtube autoplay decides to let somebody sing “HOLY”. Goose pimples and a feeling of being nauseated. Moving my cursor over one of the images, the scenery is changing: I am no longer in today’s Berlin but in one of the indescribable moments of absolute elimination during the Second World War. Images that show parts of this indescribable crime, the Holocaust. But the really shocking thing is that the ‘happy people’ have stayed, only the scenery has changed.
YOLOCAUST, formed of the some years ago popular acronym YOLO (You only live once) and Holocaust, is an art project by the Jewish artist and author Shahak Shapira who has been living in Germany since his childhood. He wants to question our commemorative culture by combining “selfies from the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin with footage from Nazi extermination camps”.
German rightwing populist calls it “memorial of shame”
Shapira’s idea is, not only because of itself, very interesting. It gains special attention because in a speech he held last week, Björn Höcke, member of the rightwing populist AfD (Alternative for Germany), characterized German official commemorative cultures as “dumb”, and called Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial a “memorial of shame” that was, following his argument, erected to disregard the German people. Having a look at Shapira’s exemplary chosen photos from the social media, I had to ask myself if the U-turn in commemoration, which was demanded by Höcke, not already has become obsolete. Not officially, but in the minds of many tourists visiting Berlin and those of Germans wanting to ‘overcome’ the historical shame and guilt, starting into a future with some kind of clear record.
That at least is what I have to assume reading the photo’s tags and comments, such as “Jumping on dead Jews @HolocaustMemorial” or “German Gangster” – combined with a general trend contra commemoration. People who take these photos might – at least in part – be aware of the dreadful German past but they do not see this place in the centre of Berlin as hortative memorial. It is just very special scenery for their social media self-staging.
Questioning one’s behaviour
Even if one could criticise Shahak Shapira for using the photo material of maybe uninformed tourists, I need to say that they posted their ‘memories’ voluntarily in a public space. From my point of view, it is legitimate to use this material for an artistic project as Shapria`s is. Additionally, he allows the portrayed people to send him an e-mail with the wish to delete their photo. Some have already made use of this possibility.
I do not want to limit people’s freedom. I can only guess but not know what the selfie-tourists felt and thought when they saw the photos that had been posted of them. But I am really sad that this cruel part of German history seems to be treated as irrelevant or obsolete. I do want to appeal to the visitors of such places: Don’t be ignorant. Be human instead, respect the dignity of the victims. At least.
A detailed New York Times report on Höckes speech.
Video of Höckes speech (in German).