I grew up Jewish so I’m naturally very sensitive to the horrors that took place at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. I’m also very critical of Holocaust deniers and those who would minimize what the Nazis did to Jews, gays and other “undesirables.”
But I think we need to give that young girl who took a selfie at the concentration camp a break. Alabama teenager Breann Mitchell has been vilified in social media for gross insensitivity for doing what many others have done before her.
I’ve been to concentration camps and other infamous places including ground zero in New York, Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and battlefields in the U.S. and other countries where countless people were slaughtered and I’ve seen people taking pictures of themselves in front of these scenes with a big smile on their face. It’s natural. It’s what we’re taught to do when we stand in front of a camera.
And just because someone smiles in front of such a site, doesn’t mean they’re insensitive to what happened there. Breanna tweeted and told a TV interviewer (scroll down to watch) that she does “understand what happened there” and had planned to visit there with her dad, who died before they could make the trip.
Had this been a seasoned politician or journalist, I might criticize them (perhaps gently) for misjudgment. But this is a teenage girl who visited the site because she has a strong interest in the history of World War II and the Holocaust. If anything, she should be congratulated for caring about what happened there.
If I saw her partying at the site or trying to diminish the horror and historical importance of what happened there, I would think she was being insensitive, but smiling? Come on, we’re all taught to smile in pictures. I’d like to think I would have the judgement not to smile at such a locale, but I honestly can’t swear that I’ve never posed with a smile for a picture at such an important but horrible place.
It’s hard not to agree with her followup tweet, asking people to “quit tweeting to, quoting, retweeting and favoriting my picture…”
Look, social media is great. It’s our international “water cooler,” where we share our thoughts about just about anything. But sometimes it’s just too easy for people to use social media to express judgements that condemn others before really thinking about how you are affecting that person and his or her reputation.
So, this is a teachable moment for all of us. On one hand it’s a wakeup call to put more thought into those “selfies” and other spontaneous pictures that can so easily go viral. But on the other hand, it’s a lesson for the rest of us as well. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”