Each year, millions of people visit somber memorials housed on former Nazi extermi- nation camps. While many of these sites have seen a vast uptick in visitors in the last five years, there is something incongruous about Holocaust sites as tourist destinations. Is it a desecration of these sacred places to have thousands of casual tourists briskly herding themselves through such hallowed ground?
Sergei Loznitsa spent months training his camera on the thousands of daily visitors coming through the gates and exhibits of former extermination camps (Dachau and Sachsenhausen). The resulting film reveals much more about the visitors and the nature of modern life than it does about the history of the sites themselves. Sifting through a seemingly endless parade of vulgar t-shirts and selfie sticks, Loznitsa observes an alternating current of the banal, the bewildering, the outrageous, and the outright depressing.
The director’s intent is to offer more questions than answers, making us aware of the contradictions inherent in the clash between the sacred halls of history and the profanity of modern existence. Can memorials, meant to serve as grim reminders of past horrors and warnings to subsequent generations, serve these functions in an increasingly fast-paced and unceremonious world? Does a sacrosanct place take on a different feel when turned into a tourist depot teeming with thousands, shuffling casually through each exhibit? Can we—or rather, should we—commodify such venerated sites for the sake of a CliffsNotes version of the Holocaust? Can a site preserved to teach and to fulfill the call to “never forget” survive the selfie age? (Scott Braid)