BEFORE the Iron Curtain came down, my brother and I holidayed in
East Germany. While we were there, we visited Buchenwald
concentration camp. Little did we know that we were starting a
trend. It is called "genocide tourism".
One of my abiding memories of the recent European football
tournament was the visit of the English team to Auschwitz. The
experience had a profound effect on Wayne Rooney. "It's hard to
understand," he said. "I am a parent, and it's tough to see what
happened there. You've seen the amount of children who died. You
see the children's clothes and shoes; it's really sad. You have to
see it first hand."
The visit got a mixed press. Oliver Holt, in the Daily
Mirror, said: "The harrowing visit made an extremely powerful
statement," as football struggles with racism among players and
fans. Melanie Phillips, in the Daily Mail, however, found
it a "deeply distasteful football PR stunt".
But England was not alone in exchanging goalposts for gas
chambers. Players from Italy and Holland had been there before
them, and representatives from the German team followed.
Whatever the motives, "dark tourism" is becoming increasingly
big business. Auschwitz received 1.4 million visitors last year,
and, as Clare Spencer, from BBC News, recently reported, it is not
the only genocide memorial that is seeing a rise in interest.
Bosnia, Rwanda, and Cambodia have also become popular
The tour guide George Mavroudis, who charters planes to fly
Americans around Rwanda to see the gorillas, says that most of his
clients also ask to visit the memorial in Kigali that marks the
murder of about one million Tutsis and Hutus in 1994. More than
40,000 visited the memorial last year, where row upon row of skulls
are on display, as they are in Cambodia, where the victims of the
Khmer Rouge are remembered.
It seems that people are broadening their holiday horizons, and
showing a desire to get beyond the pool-side bar. "People want to
be challenged," the psychologist Dr Sheila Keegan says. "It may be
voyeuristic and macabre, but people want to feel those big emotions
which they don't often come across. They want to ask that very
basic question about being human: 'How could we do this?'"
But this is not the only response. In a famous scene in Trevor
Griffiths's play Comedians, the sympathetic figure of
Eddie Waters makes a shocking confession after visiting Buchenwald.
"It wasn't only repulsive," he says. "I got an erection in that
place. An erection!"
There will be mixed motives among the genocide tourists this
summer. Respect, horror, sadness, and strange fascination. When in
New York, I had to stand where John Lennon was shot. Why?