Designing the Holocaust at the Sites of the Shoah and Museum Stores

By Cayo Gamber.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In 2004, the director of the Buchenwald Memorial, Volkhard Knigge, challenged the students at Bauhaus University in Weimar to create concentration camp souvenirs to sell in the gift shop/bookstore at the Buchenwald Memorial. To explain the source of his challenge, Knigge argued that visitors between the ages of 20 and 30 have formulated a different way of accessing the history of the Holocaust. In particular, he argued that these visitors want to take something away that is loaded with the emotions of the place, and thus providing souvenirs would meet that need.

In my paper, I will argue that such a commodification reflects a desire on the part of visitors to “own” their experience – that ownership of an in-situ experience of the Holocaust is materialized in taking something away from the site itself. Some of the souvenirs are organic to the site. For example, the forest of beech trees that served as the concentration camp’s namesake inspired one of the souvenirs: sprigs of beech planted in pots that visitors can take home. Another souvenir is stationary embedded with tiny pebbles and twigs from the camp. The visitors’ souvenirs serve as tokens of having been there and of taking part of the Holocaust home with them.

In my presentation, I will discuss the complexities of designing mementos and artifacts of the Holocaust. I also will demonstrate that the various ways in which the Holocaust is commodified, potentially destabilizes the commemorative or memorial site of the Holocaust, thereby eroding an understanding of the site, the memory, and the history itself as sacred, permanent, and inviolate.

Keywords: Holocaust Memorials, Gift Shops and Bookstores, Tourists’ Experience of Commemorative and Memorial Sites of the Holocaust

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 6, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.484MB).

Dr. Cayo Gamber

Assistant Professor of Writing, The University Writing Program, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Cayo Gamber is an Assistant Professor of Writing at the George Washington University. She currently teaches a writing seminar, “Legacies of the Holocaust,” focused on researching primary documents related to the Holocaust (e.g., oral histories of survivors and archival photographs); “Introduction to Women’s Studies”; and “From Barbie Dolls to Guerilla Girls: A Study of Women in/and Media.” Her research interests include analyzing the memorialization of warfare, teaching the Holocaust through primary documents and literature, and the role of popular culture (e.g., the Barbie doll and Nancy Drew) in creating Western notions of girlhood and womanhood.


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