Shoah Selfies: Israeli Satirist Shames Holocaust Tourists Who Pose 'On Dead Jews'

New site offers twist on culture of taking selfies at Berlin's Holocaust memorial, juxtaposing past and present to send damning message.

A newly unveiled online project called “Yolocaust” delivers a stinging message for those who not only act disrespectfully at a Berlin Holocaust memorial but capture their behavior and share it with their friends on social media. The project, which debuted on Wednesday, was visited by so many Germans that the computer server hosting it crashed, according to reports in the German media, where it was covered with great interest.

The project, created by Berlin-based Israeli satirist and author Shahak Shapira, aims to “explore our commemorative culture by combining selfies from The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin with footage from Nazi extermination camps.”

The site features real colorful selfies of young people have taken at the Holocaust memorial that Shapira found on Facebook, Instagram, Tinder and Grinder, and includes captions like “Jumping on dead Jews @Holocaust Memorial”. When the viewer moves their computer’s mouse over the photos - without even a click -  they suddenly transform to black and white, and graphic black and white photographs of the extermination camps appear in the background.

Shapira told Haaretz that he was moved to create the project by the “huge amount of inappropriate selfies at the Holocaust memorial I started seeing on a weekly basis in social media.” There are, he said, "thousands" of such photographs.

Shapira, 28, moved to East Germany when has 14, and grew up in what he describes as a “shithole ...  with lots of neo-Nazis.” He worked in advertising before turning to creative pursuits – including writing a book in German about his dual Israeli-German identity. In recent years, he has focused on stand-up comedy and satire, as well as "trolling neo-Nazis on the Internet,' he said.  

His name hit the headlines in January 2015, when he was attacked and beaten by a group of young men on the subway in the German capital on New Year's Eve. The assault took place, he told police, after he asked the seven men to stop chanting anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli songs and slurs which he recorded on his cell phone. When he got off at the next subway stop, the men, who were speaking both German and Arabic, followed him and demanded he delete his video. When he refused, they spat on him and beat and kicked him, injuring his head.

Shapira said that most of the feedback he has received about the project has been positive. “I have gotten great feedback from people who work at Yad Vashem or used to work at the Holocaust memorial, and even teachers asking me if they can use my project for their school lessons.”

The poses at the memorial include photos of visitors jumping, juggling, skating, biking and even doing gymnastics in, around, and on top of the 2,711 concrete slabs of the massive structure, designed to pay tribute to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust who never had proper burials.

The name, “Yolocaust’ incorporates the trendy acronym “YOLO” - You Only Live Once.

The “Yolocaust” site describes the memorial and its purpose, and includes a tongue-in-cheek FAQ.

In response to the question, "So what am I allowed to do at the Holocaust Memorial, and what not?" is the answer: "No historical event compares to the Holocaust. It's up to you how to behave at a memorial site that marks the death of 6 million people."

The question "Isn't this disrespectful towards the victims of the Holocaust?" offers the response: "Yes, some people's behavior at the memorial site is indeed disrespectful. But the victims are dead, so they're probably busy doing dead people's stuff rather than caring about that."

The site gives those who appear in any of the photos the option of removing their image from the site, if they "suddenly regret having uploaded it to the internet." Even the email address they are told to write to in order to do so is undouche.me@yolocaust.de

The problem of bad behavior at Holocaust memorial sites captured on social media - and the specific problem of the Berlin memorial is nothing new, and has been highlighted in the past.

The monument, designed by American-Jewish architect Peter Eisenman, was inaugurated in May 2005, marking the 60th anniversary of Germany’s surrender in World War II. The large and sprawling memorial has long been a source of controversy in that it is perceived as a public park. Over the years, there has been significant discussion in Germany and abroad about the norms of behavior at the site, particularly on its eastern side, which contains shops and restaurants and has been dubbed “Holocaust Beach” by the German press.