Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Genocide tourism: Tragedy becomes a destination

Julie Dermansky is a genocide tourist.

Since visiting the former Nazi death camp at Dachau in 1997, Dermansky, a 40-year-old from Santa Monica, Calif., has seen the killing fields in Cambodia, walked through mass grave sites in Bosnia and stood among human remains in Rwanda. She is, in her own words, obsessed.

"Why go to Club Med," Dermansky, a photographer, asks, "when you can witness this kind of history?"

She is not alone. An increasing number of tourists are traveling to places of horrific human catastrophe. In Rwanda, Bosnia and Armenia, travelers pay their respects to victims of genocide at popular memorials and cemeteries. Even Kurdistan in Iraq, scene of an ethic cleansing campaign during the 1980s, is promoting its horrible past with a genocide museum. Tragedy has become a destination.

Nearly a million tourists visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in 2005, up from half that the year before. Other former death camps have seen a similar increase in recent years.

Lately at Auschwitz, the growth in tourism has made for some odd juxtapositions. Visitors dine in a newly renovated cafeteria built within the large room where thousands of Nazi victims were processed upon arrival at the camp. This blending of modern tourist convenience and the apparatus of organized death disturbed Dermansky.

"It's a tourist jungle," she says.

No comments:

Post a Comment