Auschwitz death camp memorial museum launches Facebook page to reach young people around world

By Monika Scislowska, AP
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Auschwitz memorial launches Facebook page

WARSAW, Poland — To try to reach young people around the world, the memorial museum at Auschwitz has launched a page on Facebook, the social networking site usually home to news and photos about friends, funny videos and the minutiae of modern life.

The page aims to be a forum for discussion, reflection and learning about the Nazi death camp, and many people have left a simple message in English, Hebrew and Polish: “Never again.”

Since opening this week, the page has drawn more than 1,800 “fans,” who have subscribed, and the number is growing by the hour. About 1,000 signed up on Thursday alone.

Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the Auschwitz memorial, said the museum viewed its venture onto the popular site as “kind of an experiment.”

“Facebook is the tool that young people are using to communicate, so if we want to reach them, we should be using their tool,” Sawicki told The Associated Press.

The attention that the page has generated took the museum by surprise.

“We were expecting large interest, but not so soon,” Sawicki said.

Other organizations that deal with the legacy of the Holocaust already have ventured onto Facebook. The Simon Wiesenthal Center counts more than 2,000 “fans” on its site and also has used Twitter.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum launched its Facebook page in 2008 and has more than 5,500 fans. It also is on Twitter and YouTube.

“Facebook is just another way to reach people,” said David Klevan, the education manager for technology and distance learning at the Washington museum. “Just like museums often hold programs in coffee shops or other places in their local communities, this is where people gather — they gather on Facebook.”

Efraim Zuroff of the Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem said the idea of using the Internet is “to reach out to as many people as possible.”

Although the Web is also rife with far-right sites that attempt to distort or deny the Holocaust, Zuroff said that was no reason for others to dismiss using it.

“The vehicle depends on the content,” he said. “If the content is helpful, if the content is educational, there’s no reason not to use the vehicle.”

There’s been no suggestion that Facebook is an inappropriate place to discuss the Holocaust and Auschwitz, a potent symbol of Nazi Germany’s attempt to eliminate European Jewry.

“I don’t think Facebook is the worst place for education, and let’s be honest — the world has changed,” said Piotr Kadlcik, the head of Poland’s Jewish community. “Facebook can be such a place, and I don’t see anything dangerous or wrong about the Auschwitz museum having a profile on it.”

Facebook turned five years old this year and has more than 175 million users worldwide. There are scores of Facebook groups dedicated to Auschwitz started by individuals, but the page — found by searching the site with the keywords “Auschwitz Memorial” — allows people to take part in discussions moderated by the memorial’s staff.

So far, the site has seen no postings by Holocaust deniers, Sawicki said. If they do show up, they will be removed quickly, he said, adding that engaging such people in dialogue is “a waste of time.”

“I think we have more important things to do than try to convince a very small group of people” that the Holocaust happened, he said.

The Facebook venture is not the museum’s first attempt to take advantage of new technologies to reach a broader audience. It launched a Polish-language channel on YouTube in 2008 and an English-language page two months ago. Some 22,000 people have viewed the video so far.

“You can see that although many years have passed since the Holocaust, this is still an important reference point for people and that each generation has its own thoughts and reflections on it,” Sawicki said.

Between 1940-45, some 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed or died of starvation, disease and forced labor at the camp, which the Nazis built in occupied Poland. Sawicki said the memorial’s 1 million annual visitors are primarily students and other young people.

There is an unofficial Facebook page dedicated to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, which says it plans an official page in the coming weeks.

“We certainly view the internet as a key tool in disseminating accurate, credible information about the Holocaust to as wide an audience as possible,” Yad Vashem spokeswoman Estee Yaari said in an e-mail to the AP.

The Anne Frank memorial has a YouTube channel, as does Yad Vashem, which offers information in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic.

Associated Press writer Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.

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