An Instagrammer has apologized to officials at the Auschwitz Memorial in Oswiecim, Poland after posting a photo of their rubber duck on social media in front of the former concentration camp’s "Gate of Death.”
The unidentified travel blogger, who goes by the name of @Atuk.Apil on social media, has a small but not insignificant following on social media. There, he or she uses a rubber duck toy to pose in front of famous landmarks including Buckingham Palace, The Treasury in Petra, and more. The shots are typically innocuous, however, the blogger’s recent post in front of Auschwitz quickly caught the attention of horrified followers and officials.
“What if someone who travels with a rubber duck and uses it as an artistic Instagram convention arrives at [the] Auschwitz Museum,” museum officials tweeted alongside the photo of the duck. “Is the rubber duck in front of the Gate of Death disrespectful - even unintentionally? Or is it a side effect of the visual world we should accept/ignore?”
What if someone who travels with a rubber duck & uses it as an artistic Instagram convention arrives at @AuschwitzMuseum?— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 6, 2019
Is the rubber duck in front of the Gate of Death disrespectful - even unintentionally? Or is it a side effect of the visual world we should accept/ignore? pic.twitter.com/RVqqVPL9CH
Officials from the museum additionally noted that after reading the caption of the now-deleted post it was clear the person understood the significance of the historical site.
The caption partially read, “It was the largest extermination centre in the history of Nazism, where it is estimated that about 1,300,000 people were sent, of which 1,100,000 died, the vast majority of them Jewish.”
Officials asked on Twitter, “Does it [make] things better? Or maybe worse” that the person understood where they were but posted an image like this anyway.
Just one day after initially posting about the photo the museum received a formal apology from the blogger, who explained it was not their intention to "disrespect or generate controversy." The person added, "my sincerest apologies to @auschwitzmemorial for the inconvenience and to all the people who have felt offended."
We kept the author informed about this discussion. The image has already been removed. The apology followed. pic.twitter.com/sZC2UnDbxl— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 7, 2019
Visiting Auschwitz, and historical sites like it, remain a vital part of our traveling education. However, when visiting there are a few things to remember to ensure you remain a respectful and conscientious tourist.
Refrain from posing or taking selfies
At Auschwitz, guests are encouraged to “...behave with due solemnity and respect." To the museum, that means leaving your Instagram poses — and selfies — at home.
When you come to @AuschwitzMuseum remember you are at the site where over 1 million people were killed. Respect their memory. There are better places to learn how to walk on a balance beam than the site which symbolizes deportation of hundreds of thousands to their deaths. pic.twitter.com/TxJk9FgxWl— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) March 20, 2019
Spend time educating yourself and getting emotionally prepared
Prior to visiting a place like Auschwitz, spend a little time educating yourself on what exactly happened there. This way, you can prepare for your visiting emotionally as well.
“Bring tissues — tears are almost a guarantee,” Johanna Read, a Vancouver-based writer and photographer, told Forbes. “If we don't learn from the horrors of the past, we're destined to repeat them.”
Hire a local guide
Hiring a guide at locations like Auschwitz will not only be helpful to your learning, but it could also help you avoid any unintended embarrassment. If you’re questioning if something is OK to do at a site just ask your guide.
“We recommend having local expertise in any site you’re visiting that has a form of historical significance, especially tragedy,” Steph Millington of Intrepid Travel also shared with Forbes. “The local guide will provide you with all you need to know on the destinations, while also providing you with the proper tools to respect and prepare for your visit.”
Go with your gut
Quite simply, if it feels off or you’re questioning yourself on if something is appropriate, just don’t do it. Instead, try putting down your phone and just listening and observing at historical places.
It’s OK to go offline for moments like this.