Officials at the Auschwitz Memorial in Oswiecim, Poland, say an Instagrammer has apologized and removed a photo of a whimsical rubber duck posed near the infamous “Gate of Death,” where Nazi officials once glanced over humans being unloaded from cattle cars and decided whether they would immediately be marched to the gas chambers or be sent to endure the concentration camp.
Last week, the @AuschwitzMusueum account questioned how they should react to being incorporated into a meme of sorts by @atuk_apil, whose account poses the smiling duck outside famous sites such as St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the Colosseum in Rome.
“What if someone who travels with a rubber duck & uses it as an artistic Instagram convention arrives at @AuschwitzMuseum?” their post asked. “Is the rubber duck in front of the Gate of Death disrespectful – even unintentionally? Or is it a side effect of the visual world we should accept/ignore?”
After reading the now-deleted Instagram post, which contained statistics about the number of people who perished there, the Auschwitz Memorial team asked, “The caption of the image shows that the person knew the significance of the site. Does (it make) things better? Or maybe worse?”
The Instagrammer, @atuk_apil, has not yet been identified.
Twitter user @MDayan06 wrote, “Auschwitz should remain sacred. Just as much as places like Arlington or Verdun. You would not see this happening in a cemetery, so why does it seem acceptable to many in Auschwitz. And then why is it ok in places like Pripyat (the site of the Chernobyl disaster) where many have died too.”
By the following day, the Auschwitz Memorial shared an update saying the post had been deleted and shared an apology from the author, explaining it was not their intention to “disrespect or generate controversy,” adding, “my sincerest apologies to @auschwitzmemorial for the inconvenience and to all the people who have felt offended.”
A couple of users praised both sides for handling the situation calmly.
“I am satisfied that this person realizes the mistake and has apologized,” wrote @ArctanPete. “Thank you for your work, @AuschwitzMuseum.”
“Very well handled in this situation. Kudos to both parties,” said @OlavAbildgaard. “Although that ‘apology’ seems to indicate they learned nothing, and don’t understand why what they did was wrong.”
“Frankly I would have preferred a more heartfelt and empathetic apology that showed that the photographer viscerally realized how horrendously offensive this was, and encouraged all of his/her followers to follow@AuschwitzMuseum to gain awareness of this stain on our history,” suggested @PaulSGundlach.
And @TheRefinersFire pointed out what they hoped would be the take-away message: “Veiled apology or not, the sites of these atrocities are NOT ‘just tourist attractions. The person responsible amply demonstrated their lack of understanding of this horrific black-mark on humanity. When my wife I and I visited some of these sites, we cried. No photo-op.”