Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Final year students visit dark tourism sites in Poland

Dr Philip Stone, Executive Director of our Institute for Dark Tourism Research, recently organised a three day field visit to Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau for final year Tourism and Event Management students.

The trip was the culmination of a dedicated 16 week module which critically examines 'dark tourism' and fundamental relationships of commercialisation and commemoration within contemporary visitor economies.

A German national radio station also interviewed Dr Stone and some of the students for a documentary to be aired in June 2015. Dr Stone said: "Our students visited the world's largest cemetery to learn about the atrocity that was the Holocaust.

"This brought to the fore many of the practical and theoretical issues that students have examined in the classroom, including notions of tourism and secular pilgrimage, media validation, victimhood, heritage interpretation and authenticity, constructions of morality and mortality, as well as political ideologies and dissonant heritage."

Dr Stone noted this year's visit was particularly poignant because of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp by the Red Army in January 1945.

"Students witnessed management and political issues associated with hosting such an evocative anniversary event at Auschwitz-Birkenau," he said. "There are fine, if not often blurred lines between commercialisation and commemoration as well as between remembrance and reconciliation, and the contemporary tourist experience is often at the centre of these critical debates."

The group also visited Schindler's Factory as well as taking in a Jewish music concert at a restaurant in Krakow.

"The whole visit was designed around the tourism interpretation of how (Jewish) life flourished in a place, how and why systematic racism and persecution took hold, how genocide occurred, and how (Jewish) life is now flourishing again," said Dr Stone.

Asia Connor, a third year International Tourism Management student, was amongst those who visited Poland. She said: "We visited Oskar Schindler's Factory of Enameled Vessels 'Emalia', which has been turned into a modern museum. It showcases an exhibition of Krakow during the Nazi occupation from 1939 – 1945. We had a fantastic guided tour which was very informative, showing the history of the city rather than the factory."

During their time at Auschwitz, students were exposed to human hair, shoes, luggage, prosthetic legs and glasses, all of which demonstrated the sheer enormity of the number of people killed during the Nazi reign.

Asia added: "While studying at UCLan I've learnt about expectations and perception - Auschwitz compared very differently to what I expected. Although it's a place of mass death and a memorial to those who died, it has also been turned into a mass tourism attraction."

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