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German-Jewish Dialogue event examines role of WWII marketing

By Emily Suda

Section: News

October 27, 2006

On Monday, Oct. 23, the German-Jewish Dialogue at Brandeis hosted visiting speaker Ulrike Dittrich. The event, entitled “Concentration Camp Souvenirs: Pieces of Memory or Objects of Commercial Mass Production?,” was based upon Dittrichs Ph.D. thesis project “Concentration Camp and Holocaust Keepsakes objects of memory in everyday life: semiotic narratives in the scope of holocaust site tourism and event culture.”

Dittrich was a postgraduate trainee at the Ravensbrck Memorial Museum (at the site of the former Ravensbrck Concentration Camp) Brandenburg Memorials Foundation from 2002 to 2004. It was here where Dittrich first became horrified by trivial commercialization sold in gift shops and this led to her research project.

What Dittrich focused on were mass-produced objects at museums located at historical sites, not actual objects recovered from the sites. Each of these souvenirs, she said, is meant to echo specific memories. Objects Dittrich discussed included hats, banners, T-shirts, ball point pens, medals, rulers and even a windbreaker. She also brought a pencil from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC that has the words Never Again printed on its side. Dittrich pointed out that, ironically, these words disappear as the pencil is sharpened.

Dittrich also brought up the book Concentration Camps: A Travelers Guide to WWII Sites by American Marc Terrance, who visited 39 Concentration Camps and WWII sites in 25 days, special Holocaust Tours, and even a paper model of Hitlers bunker.

Dittrich went on to criticize that something vital is missing from these mass produced objects and that they present an incomplete version of history. These objects serve as public expressions and they fill the visitors needs, such as the desire to document their travels and emotional needs after visiting places where atrocities occurred.

Dittrich is a doctoral student at the Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research at the “Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut” (KWI) in Essen, Germany and currently resides in Berlin.

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