You can read about the controversy generated by the now infamous grinning selfie of Princess Breanna in many sources, including this Washington Post piece. One of life’s difficult lessons that young people learn is that you really don’t have to do something because everybody else is doing it — selfies included. Certainly if she wanted to honor the memory of her father who taught her about the Holocaust, a fitting tribute would have been a photo of him on her social media account together with a brief statement about her visit to Auschwitz.
For every social media driven 15 minutes of fame or infamy, including mind-numbing selfies, there are many more silent exchanges honoring the history of the holocaust with greater sensitivity in a very understated manner. This story brought to mind the contrast in thoughtfulness of a non-Jewish colleague who spends considerable time in Poland and who recently went on a tour of Auschwitz. His photos were not taken with the intent of promoting anything other than a personal recollection of how much it moved him. He had the sensitivity, before he sent me the photos, to ask if it was okay to share them with me. I will not identify him, but can tell you that he would not think to take a “selfie” there because he had the distinct feeling that his presence there, his “self”, was the least important aspect of his visit. He took the guided tour through the Memorial and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
Out of respect for the spirit in which my colleague shared his photos and his feelings, I will keep both private. However I will share this quote from a photo of one of the plaques that lies embedded in the pavement:
“FOR EVER LET THIS PLACE BE A CRY OF DESPAIR AND A WARNING TO HUMANITY, WHERE THE NAZIS MURDERED ABOUT ONE AND A HALF MILLION MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN, MAINLY JEWS FROM VARIOUS COUNTRIES OF EUROPE. AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU 1940 – 1945.”
If you’re moved by that plaque, a smiling selfie is the last thing on your mind …