This is another one of those blog posts that may very well get me in trouble or lose some followers on Twitter or something.
You’ve been warned. If you’re easily offended, you may want to stop reading now.
At issue is the recent public scathing of a teenage girl from Alabama who took a smiling selfie at Auschwitz.
Let us define our terms for a moment, before we go any further.
Selfie–A picture of you, that you take by yourself, to show people where you are and what you are doing. It usually indicates that the moment of the selfie is significant or important to you for some reason, either big or small.
Smile–The semantic root of emoticons and emojis that real people often do when taking a picture or experiencing something interesting or new for the first time.
Teenage–A period of time in the life cycle of a human being that occurs before the achievement of a fully developed frontal lobe in the brain. Also, a stage of life most mature adults would rather forget about.
Auschwitz–A place where German ideologues sworn to racists and evil doctrines murdered over a million Jews 70 years ago.
Alabama–A place where American ideologues sworn to racists and evil doctrines murdered untold numbers of Black people and enslaved the rest up until 149 years ago, with atrocities continuing until 51 years ago (click here for Wikipedia’s entry on the atrocities in Birmingham) and with occasional outbursts even today.
Now, before you fire off that angry comment to me, let me assure you. I get it. I wish that girl hadn’t taken the selfie. It was insensitive. As a historian I’d want her to read some of the accounts and watch the video. As human being I want her to read Elie Wiesel, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Corrie Ten Boom. As a pastor I want her to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I want to teach her about the horrible, horrible things that happened in the past so that they will not be repeated, ever again.
But she was insensitive and didn’t think about the moment. That is what teenagers do. She was traveling with her grandmother, at a historical place, and in a foreign country. She didn’t think. She clicked and sent.
For some reason, her tweet got retweeted enough until it was picked up on aggregators and the next thing you know she is a pariah threatened with death by internet morons, accused of hate by others, and celebrated as all that is wrong with America by Leonard Pitt Jr.’s Sunday morning commentary in the newspaper (click here for his commentary).
Do you think she was anti-Semitic? Let’s see, she was voluntarily touring Auschwitz. I assume she knew what it was and wanted to see it so she could internalize some historical awareness of the holocaust. I assume, likewise, that her grandmother who was with her helped her understand at least some of the significance of the genocide and atrocities. No, she is far less anti-Semitic than some of the commentators at major newspapers are regarding the current Israeli-Hamas conflict.
Can a human being always be dour? No, a person can’t.
Let me ask my readers if smiling selfies would be allowed at Pearl Harbor? How about Ground Zero in New York at the WTC? What about Wounded Knee in South Dakota? Hiroshima? Gettysburg? The Coliseum in Rome? All of these are where people were killed, either in large numbers or for racial or religious reasons. Maybe some of the people who are angry at this girl are beginning to see why some people in the United States cringe whenever someone wears a Confederate Flag as a symbol of pride.
Let us remember that the historical difference between her birth and the events of World War II is greater than the events of my birth and the sinking of the Titanic or World War I. I also bet that wasn’t the only smiling selfie ever taken at Auschwitz.
Save your outrage for people who do real evil, like blow up folks with bombs or hurt little children.
image from nydailynews.com