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Auschwitz Memorial gets Facebook page, gains fans worldwide

By Srbui Karapetian

Oct. 21, 2009 10:56 p.m.

Sixty-five years ago, in the midst of World War II, a baby girl was born to a female Polish prisoner in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, the largest of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps.

Records at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a memorial built on the site of the Auschwitz camp in Poland, indicate that she survived and was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945.

This information, tracing the fate of a single child in the camp, is among the most recent posts on the Facebook fan page of the Auschwitz Memorial, launched earlier last week.

Within a single week, the museum’s Facebook page has garnered upward of 11,000 fans from around the world, including students in Los Angeles.

Charles Wolf, a third-year mathematics student and external vice president of the Jewish Student Union at UCLA, said he believes the newly launched Facebook page will increase awareness and understanding of the Holocaust, although not as effectively as an actual discussion in the classroom.

The high response that the Facebook page has received is a testimony to the large interest in the Holocaust even to this day, said Stacey Abarbanel, director of communications and marketing at the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

“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,” said Auschwitz museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki.

The younger generation is a particular target audience for the museum, Sawicki said.

“If our mission is to educate the younger generation to be more responsible in the contemporary world, what better tool can we use to reach them than the tools they use themselves?” he said.

Still, Wolf does not believe the page will have a very huge impact on the next generation because of the very nature of Facebook.

“That is how I see a Facebook page in general: If you are interested in the page, you become a fan ““ if not, then you don’t,” he said.

Information on the site is posted in both English and Polish, and responses can be found in varying languages.

The page displays historical material found in Auschwitz, which was a series of three camps, run outside of the Polish town of Oswiecim, said David Myers, a professor of Jewish history.

The page also contains anecdotes about Soviet prisoners of war and local Polish individuals who tried to help prisoners, aspects of the historical milieu with which many might not be familiar.

However, despite the page’s heavy traffic, one of the museum’s initial concerns was whether it should even have a presence on Facebook.

The Facebook vernacular, with comments such as “poke” or “likes this,” might seem to trivialize the gravity of the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Even the “fan page” terminology for a historical museum built on the ruins of a concentration camp has generated skepticism about the creation of the page in the media.

Yet, many Facebook users mentioned on the page that social networking sites would be effective in bringing issues about the Holocaust and Auschwitz to light.

In the case that a user posts a demeaning or insensitive comment about the Holocaust or Holocaust denial, a group of administrators monitors the site and deletes anything that is not suitable, Sawicki said.

Abarbanel further pointed out that the fan page is for the memorial, not for the concentration camp.

“There is nothing trivial about the discussions that are being carried out on Facebook,” she said.

However, some doubt the effectiveness of the page.

“While the Facebook page might have some positive effects in reaching out to young people, the senseless barbarism of Auschwitz induces in me not the need to speak, but the need to be silent ““ a kind of contemplative silence in recalling those young children who, along with their parents and grandparents, never had the chance to have their voices heard,” Myers said.

Still, the site’s ability to spread knowledge to younger users, many of whom will never be able to speak with actual survivors of the camps, may justify the page’s creation, said Jewish Student Union President Vivian Hecht, a fourth-year bioengineering student.

Abarbanel also pointed out that the Auschwitz Memorial is not the first museum to create a Facebook page ““ other museums such as the Fowler Museum and Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles also have sites.

More than a million visitors have entered the Auschwitz site this year, according to the Auschwitz museum’s Web site.

For those who have not been able to visit the actual landmark, joining the museum’s Facebook page and learning about the history could allow them to better commemorate the victims of the Holocaust together.

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Srbui Karapetian
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