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Sightseeing in the mansions of the dead

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This paper looks at a type of tourism visit which inhabits an ambiguous and relatively unmapped territory of meaning, crossing boundaries between the conceptual domains of pilgrimage, commemoration and pleasure-seeking. These visits and activities have developed in response to traumatic histories, and also reflect the growth of secular forms of spiritual experience, in which the pursuit of revelation is personal rather than hierophantic. Sites of Holocaust memorialization raise questions of memory and forgetting, guilt and redemption, meaning and ownership, with particularly acute force. However, even these most consecrated and highly cathected sites are experienced through the mediation of mimetic forms and processes of representation which significantly re-order testimony and evidence. Furthermore, the grounding of collective memory in sacralized locations and structures tends towards the distancing, externalizing and disarming of traumatic memory. Under these conditions, visitor motivations and experiences are polysemic: fractured, ambivalent, unstable, and resistant to paradigms of either the sacred or the profane.

Keywords: Auschwitz; Holocaust; Holocauste; el Holocausto; memory; museo; museum; musée; recuerdo; souvenir; tourism; tourisme; turismo

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Environment, University of Gloucestershire, Francis Close Hall, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, UK

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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