A few months ago I read an article in a Holocaust Educator’s group about dark tourism. I had never heard of this until I read the article and then realized, I do dark tourism when I travel in Europe.
Dark tourism is defined as: Tourism that involves traveling to places associated with death and suffering.
There is a great website Dark-Tourism (that seems to be offline in 2019), that explains what dark tourism is, the ethical considerations, health and safety issues, and places for dark tourism, among many other things. I highly recommend you review their main about page. (As of 25 Nov 2019 their website seems to not work but you can Google Dark Tourism to learn more from other sites.)
Also read the more scholarly description of dark tourism.
I must admit being drawn to dark tourism and the sites associated with it. Having a degree in history and background in genealogy/family history and WWI and WWII, I visit these sites primarily for historical educational purposes. A secondary reason I visit, is often I am called or drawn to a particular site to perform healing of some kind. I always seem to end up in places I never plan to be. That healing may come in the form of releasing lost souls or being witness to someone’s story (living or dead.) Sometimes just being present in a location is enough to heal whatever happened there. I do not always know exactly why I’m in certain places, but I feel the energy of it and it isn’t always good or peaceful.
I experience many things at dark tourist sites which I am often able to write or speak about later. The stories I tell often heal something in other people. Then there are places where I’m just not sure how to properly convey what happened. Perhaps those places and energies are reserved for me to heal something inside myself rather than always the souls or place I am in.
For example, I visited Dachau in 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp. This was unplanned and we arrived after lunch when busloads of people were leaving the commemoration ceremonies. I walked to the gas chamber and oven building and I could smell the smoke, hear the screams, feel the fear of those who were once there. What does one do with that? In this life I am not Jewish. Was I experiencing those energies and voices so I could bear witness so it would not be forgotten? Was I there to heal someone or the place in some way?
When my husband and I visited Prague on our honeymoon we took a WWII in Prague tour. That was not in our plans as we did not originally plan to work while we were there. I was ok through most of the tour until we visited the Gothic and Roman cellars under the Old Town Hall. This is where the resistance members and Prague citizens took refuge during the occupation. In one room in particular I could feel a tightening and nauseous feeling in my solar plexus, a tightening and almost being strangled feeling in my throat. I heard the voices of mothers soothing crying children and the dying. My soul almost wanted to jump out of my body and thankfully we moved on before it did. I did a lot of clearing in that space for both myself and the past.
Also in Prague I walked past the Jewish Cemetery but could not go in. Just walking past I picked up so much negative, sad, depressed, angry energy, I thought my soul would fly away. It took several minutes after I moved beyond the area to clear that and feel ok.
There are also places I’ve been which are likely classified as dark tourist sites due to the number of dead that sleep there, like Normandy Cemetery. The dark tourism site lists some (but not all French WWII sites and adds war cemeteries in their list). So many dead on and after D-day that were temporarily and then permanently buried there. This was the first ABMC cemetery I visited after several years of research into the cemeteries and war dead. It is one thing to research and another thing to walk where you have researched.
I could only cry from the moment I stepped foot on the property, through the museum in the visitor’s center and out into the area just before the steps to the cemetery itself. Once I reached the top of the steps the tears and sadness left. I heard only cheers and ‘welcome home’ and ‘we are so glad you finally came home.’ I felt happy and at peace. No more tears. Only peace.
Home. What did that mean exactly? The soldiers were definitely happy I visited. They recognize me as someone who will listen to them and tell their stories. To help their family members learn what really happened which will also bring them peace. Was I a soldier in WWII? No. The man I loved in that lifetime did die in the war though. In this lifetime, several family members fought and died. Perhaps home meant I was in a place I belonged, to bear witness, be understood in the pain I felt researching and telling the stories of the dead, and heal.
There are so many stories and experiences I’ve had in dark tourist sites and even those not considered dark. While I do avoid places that make me feel like my soul will flee and I’ll die on the spot, I don’t rule out visiting them in the future when I’ve healed other parts of my soul. The more we heal, the more the world heals.
World War II in Prague – I took this tour in October 2017 and it was amazing. Highly recommend this company.
What are your thoughts on, and experiences with, Dark Tourism?
© 2017 World War II Research and Writing Center
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