Two Israeli high school students draped in Israeli flags stood in the snow-topped forest of Treblinka, turned an iPhone around to face them, and snapped a smiling picture. The shot later appeared on Facebook with the caption “#Trablinka #poland #jewish.”
Hundreds of more photos like these, colloquially called ‘seflies’, have been taken by 11th and 12th grade Israeli high school students visiting Poland to tour the country's Holocaust-era death and concentration camps. An anonymous Israeli teenager decided to cull the photos and feature them on a Facebook page entitled “With My Besties in Auschwitz" (translated from Hebrew).
The page was intended to satirize and decry the outlandish photographs.
“This page started as a total joke meant for my friends,” the anonymous teen said via an online chat conversation with the New Yorker. “I just thought there was something grotesque in tagging #mountofash next to a mount of ash in Majdanek, or in making a ‘sexy’ or ‘seductive’ face next to a crematorium. What is this supposed to mean exactly — I look hot in Auschwitz?! Turns out many people agreed with me.”
Though thousands did vehemently agree that the pictures were intolerable, many did not understand that the Facebook page was intended to chastise the teens as well. Instead, the page, which went viral over night, attracted angry comments directed at the page’s creator. Comments included, “6 million Jews! Shame on you!” and “You are an embarrassment to society.” Amid the outcry and outrage, the page was taken down on Wednesday.
Explaining herself, the page-founder said, “I used sarcasm because when you talk about it seriously it doesn’t really work.”
Despite the mass misunderstanding, she felt she had accomplished her mission.
“After rocking the Web here, I feel like this has served its purpose,” she told the New Yorker. “Those who didn’t get the message until now most likely never will.”
Many view the incident as further evidence that the “Facebook generation” is hopelessly insensitive and narcissistic.
Still, others have defended the photos and the teens who chose to post them.
“Posting photographs instantly on social media is how this generation communicates,” wrote Sharna Marcus, an Israeli high school teacher who has also led several trips to Poland for Israeli teens. “Whether that’s good or bad is another conversation, but photographing being happy at these sites is not immoral.”
Marcus argued that the photographs were not intended to communicate disrespect, but defiance.
“Smiling Jewish teenagers at Auschwitz in front of the Arbeit Macht Frei sign has a certain beauty to it,” she wrote. “It is a message of despite Hitler’s best efforts the Jewish people are still here and always will be.”