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Smiling for 'Auschwitz selfies,' and crying into the digital wilderness
This tweet from Breanna Mitchell sparked a fierce debate over selfies and sacred spaces.
July 22nd, 2014
08:53 AM ET

Smiling for 'Auschwitz selfies,' and crying into the digital wilderness

Opinion by Craig Detweiler, Special to CNN

(CNN) - It is understandable why Breanna Mitchell’s sunny tweet from Auschwitz as “PrincessBMM” would spark a viral outcry.

A tour of a concentration camp, where so many Jews lost their lives, may move us to take photos or post responses - but few would include smiles, or selfies.

But Mitchell is not the first teenager to generate Internet outrage by her response to the Holocaust.

When Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House last year, he wrote in the museum guest book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully, she would have been a Belieber.”

While many have ripped into Mitchell and Bieber for their insensitivity, I don’t think they intended to be disrespectful to the dead.

Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices (mobiquity!), adolescent mistakes and hard lessons that used to be learned in private can quickly devolve into public drubbings.

This is what happens when new technologies clash with ancient understandings of the sacred. The problem is so pervasive that a Tumblr site, “Selfies at Serious Places” is dedicated to such faux pas.

We have very few spaces that our culture considers sacred, where an association with the divine results in a feeling of awe or reverence. Death may seem especially abstract to young people who haven’t been shown how to grieve, mourn or respect the dead.

So how might we help the emerging generation to develop a digital decorum that accounts for sacred spaces? Can we incorporate electronic ethics into religious instruction?

This summer, I have been teaching students at Pepperdine University’s London campus, which has given my family remarkable opportunities to see the places that define European history. Traveling with my 12- and 14-year-old children has raised questions about what is appropriate and where.

While some churches such as Westminster Abbey prohibit photography, others such as the Salisbury Cathedral allow all kinds of cameras. Our eyes, ears and spirits were far more sensitized in Westminster Abbey, where we were freed from “getting the shot.”

Once an hour, an announcement at the abbey invites visitors to pause, wherever they are, for a moment of respectful silence and prayer. How rare and appropriate to see a church encouraging us to pause en masse for sacred activity - rather than mere digital documentation of our visit.

The selfie could provide a sacred pausing if it didn’t involve so much posing.

It is one way to record a moment, to fix an experience as a reminder, “I was here.” It can be a lovely way to communicate to friends and family, “Wish you were here.”

But it also involves a level of performance that often pulls us out of the place itself. And a selfie can veer toward the humblebrag, advertising our summer vacation to friends.

The temptation with social media is to turn our friends into an audience. We cast ourselves as the star and think about how to entertain our followers. Tours of revered spaces become an opportunity to post a photo.

Should we travel to Amsterdam or Auschwitz to acquire content, to have something to share on social media?

We may sink into the spiral described by poet T.S. Eliot, “We had the experience, but missed the meaning.” Our digital devices create a conundrum: how to be fully present in the moment we are also trying to broadcast?

This summer, the line to tour the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam snaked down the block and around the church next door. So many students have read her poignant “Diary of a Young Girl” for school assignments.

Yet John Green’s best-selling, young adult novel, "The Fault in Our Stars," also awakened interest in Frank. In the novel, two teens, battling cancer, climb the stairs to Anne’s attic hideaway, where they experience their first kiss.

Older and established film critics questioned the appropriateness of the scene, but the target audience of adolescents found it powerful and inspiring. Where critics saw blasphemy and disrespect, teens edged toward the transcendent.

As Green writes in “The Fault in Our Stars,” “You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.”

When our family toured the house, no photos were allowed. The crowd was remarkably respectful. People of all ages climbed past the bookcase that covered the back half of the house and concealed the Frank family.

While I paused with my kids to take in the reality of the books still on the shelf, a woman in her 40s pulled out her phone and snapped an illicit photo. No personnel saw it. No one chided her actions. Perhaps she shared it on Facebook in a respectful way.

The wisdom in Ecclesiastes declares that there is “A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Yet we may not weep or laugh or photograph the same things at the same time.

We found even more incongruous responses to the Holocaust in Berlin.

Architects Peter Eisenman and Daniel Libeskind navigated considerable controversies while crafting moving Holocaust memorials. They respected the concerns of families and survivors while making history relevant for generations to come.

But they cannot control the public’s response.

While my family walked reverently through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, others were playing hide-and-seek and jumping across the tomb-like steles.

At the Jewish Museum, we were haunted by the Holocaust Tower. When the door closed behind us with a thunderous boom, the huge, oppressive walls and darkness bore down upon us. Yet we also watched countless school groups cruise in, take a quick pic and hop out.

Should we be encouraged that so many young people were touring the museum?

Parents and educators are challenged to communicate the gravity of the Holocaust to the next generation. In “Night,” Elie Wiesel reminded us why we must continue to teach and speak and visit horrific places like Auschwitz, “For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.”

Still, we cannot control what Justin Bieber or Breanna Mitchell post.

Where most of us saw disrespect in Mitchell’s smile, she claimed it was a moment of bonding with her deceased father. Their shared experience of studying about Auschwitz found fruition in her visit. Her selfie and smile was a positive form of grieving - and an affront to others.

Perhaps the wisdom of Viktor Frankl can help us navigate a world where privacy has nearly collapsed and everything is open to self-promotion.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl noted: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

We must continue to provide sacred spaces and opportunities for us all to pause, to turn off our devices long enough to experience the divine. But that space must also be open to indifference, to blasphemy, to selfies.

For even in its intense inward focus, the selfie posted on social media is also a cry into the void: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

May Bieber and Mitchell hear an affirming whisper rather than merely a massive outrage.

Craig Detweiler is a professor of communication at Pepperdine University and the author of "iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives." The views expressed in this column belong to Detweiler. 

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Death • Ethics • Europe • History • Holocaust • Internet • Media • Opinion • Sacred Spaces • Spirituality • Traditions • Trends

soundoff (705 Responses)
  1. bibleverse1

    People take selfies when they go to the pyramids, also at the Taj Majal, and at arlington national cemetary. There is nothing wrong with a selfie at even the place with bad histories. I think is shows the resilient spirit in people to overcome. I hope this young lady keeps smiling.

    July 22, 2014 at 4:16 pm |
  2. indenturedman

    People take Smiling Selfies everywhere; it's inevitable. The way people handle an area is different for everyone. Just because you aren't enjoying learning about something, and chose to be mournful about it, doesn't mean that others should.

    Fort Sumner Smiling Selfie :
    http://themartinsamericanadventure.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/fort-sumter-selfie.jpg

    The Alamo Smiling Selfie :
    http://imgur.com/gallery/FDgLMBM

    WTC Memorial Smiling Selfie :
    http://cdn.theawl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Screen-Shot-2014-07-21-at-2.04.52-PM.jpg

    Come on people, yes, bad things happen, yes people died, lots of people. Yes, maybe even your relative. But to force everyone else to be "mournful" because YOU don't like it; is very self centered. Even more than taking a selfie.

    July 22, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
  3. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    For the modern zeitgeist, social media is the equivalent of a dog seeing a squirrel.

    With the multiplier effect on the swarm / scrum factor, the blow-back from social media is really harsh and people should know that it can have consequences before they post, but they don't.

    Having said that, this is completely overblown. Some people deserve to learn a lesson in context – like this young lady and the woman who tweeted herself with an AR15, bible and a flag* but they don't need the opprobrium of millions dumped on them.

    * and the ironic juxtaposition of a female jihadist see:
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/07/07/hobby_lobby_jihadist_photo_side_by_side_of_two_very_different_ideologies.html

    LOOK, SQUIRREL! Now what was I talking about?

    July 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
    • James Cameron

      This demonstrates that most of the American Young are BRAINLESS!! this ugly girls doesnt have brains, that simply

      July 22, 2014 at 3:58 pm |
      • igaftr

        "This demonstrates that most of the American Young are BRAINLESS!! this ugly girls doesnt have brains, that simply"

        Your post shows that people who supposedly speak English, don't.

        July 22, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
      • LaBella

        Eyeroll.

        July 22, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
      • skytag

        "this ugly girls doesnt have brains, that simply"

        You posted this incoherent string of words and have the audacity to say she doesn't have brains? Too funny.

        Sorry, but what kind of person believes he can know such things about a total stranger based on one picture?

        July 22, 2014 at 4:05 pm |
    • urbsports

      I don't think the "Belieber" comment compares to this at all. For starters, Anne Frank, despite her terrible situation, was a normal girl in many respects. I don't remember much of the diary (I read some of it years ago), but I remember she talked about a lot of mundane, girlie stuff in the book. Her life didn't revolve around the occupation. At one point, she mentioned that she aspired to be a journalist. If the Internet had existed in her time, then there is a good chance that, as a 12 year old girl, she would have had a crush on Bieber. If anything, stuff like that would take her away from her situation, if only for a few moments.

      As for this young lady in front of Auschwitz; I can't understand how she could smile at all. When I went to the Anne Franke Museum in Amsterdam, I came out of there with a headache; I certainly wasn't smiling. I can't imagine how I would have reacted to a visit to the actual death camps. Geez.

      July 22, 2014 at 4:21 pm |
      • LaBella

        With all due respect, if you can't imagine how you would feel, why do you think you're qualified to tell someone else how they should feel?

        July 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm |
      • skytag

        She was happy to be able to go there. Maybe you've traveled so much there's no thrill in it for you anymore. This was Breanna's graduation trip, possibly the first time she's been out of the country.

        July 22, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
  4. ibagoalie

    @skytag It is very comparable. If my family member was gassed at a Concentration Camp then it is like being at their burial site (ie casket). For someone that doesn't know this young woman, you are being really, really defensive. And I'd like to point out that arguing against people having views that are different from yours does not make yours automatically right.

    July 22, 2014 at 3:00 pm |
    • skytag

      "For someone that doesn't know this young woman, you are being really, really defensive."

      The Internet is awash with keyboard cowards criticizing and passing judgments on total strangers while hiding behind anonymous names on the Internet, people about whom they know nothing but fantasize they understand their very souls. It is not healthy behavior and is not good for our society. It divides us. It affects how we think of other people.

      How does a thousand people condemning an 18-year-old girl they don't know make us a better nation or the world a better place?

      July 22, 2014 at 3:48 pm |
      • James XCIX

        "It is not healthy behavior and is not good for our society. It divides us. It affects how we think of other people."

        Agreed, well said.

        July 22, 2014 at 3:54 pm |
      • G to the T

        Because people who do ridiculous things deserve ridicule?

        July 22, 2014 at 4:00 pm |
        • skytag

          Such as you posting that comment? There is nothing ridiculous about smiling for a picture.

          July 22, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
    • skytag

      "And I'd like to point out that arguing against people having views that are different from yours does not make yours automatically right."

      You like to point out the obvious? Why is that? I do hope you know this applies to you as well.

      Your views on whether someone should smile in a picture are not the issue. I couldn't care less about that. My issue is with publicly condemning a total stranger about whom you know nothing in a forum where she can't defend herself and you're hiding behind an anonymous name. You and a thousand other people, as if that's somehow going to make this 18-year-old girl a better person or America a better place.

      If you had a daughter who tweeted something some people didn't think was appropriate would you really be keen on thousands of strangers on the web criticizing her for it? Do you have any grown kids? Did they always do what you thought they should do? Did you want half the country passing judgments on them?

      July 22, 2014 at 4:00 pm |
      • ibagoalie

        If i had a daughter who tweeted a picture like that and she got feedback that was negative, i would sit her down and explain that once she puts something out into cyberspace then people are free to comment, good or bad. I would also explain to her why some people have negative reactions, not because they are jerks but because they are truly offended (for one reason or another). If you don't understand that, i sorry, but i hope this young woman in the story learns that one needs to be aware that social media can come back to bite you.

        July 22, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
    • Public Reproval

      or maybe she's just happy because she cleaned 1000 bathrooms or had 100 bake sales to get the $ for this trip.

      July 23, 2014 at 12:28 am |
  5. neondancer

    Not everyone feels spiritual, even in spiritual places. Some of us tour cathedrals not for god, but for art. Some of us would go to a concentration camp and view it as a sort of museum of one of the darkest episodes in human history and as a monument to the terrible things people do to none another. Taking selfies is just stupid in most places, let alone in places like this. But it hardly breaks the place.

    July 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm |
  6. skytag

    All the haters have really done is give the girl her 15 minutes of fame.

    July 22, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
  7. tallulah131

    Personally, I think that "selfies" themselves are inappropriate. Why in the world do you need to take pictures of yourself and post them for all to see? It's a bizarre, self-centered phenomenon and it reflects poorly on our culture.

    July 22, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
    • neverbeenhappieratheist

      I agree. But then I intentionally don't own a cell phone so who am I to judge...

      July 22, 2014 at 2:18 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        You live with no cell phones?
        No LED lights?
        No 'lectric cars?
        Not a single luxury?

        July 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm |
        • neverbeenhappieratheist

          I have all the other comforts technology provides, I just don't own a cell phone because I had to have one for work 1995-1999 (old motorola brick) and found that when you own a cell phone, it's more like everyone else owning you. I decided to never own one again and kept that promise till my wife forced me to have one for the three months at the end of her first pregnancy after which I promptly canceled it. If I want to talk with someone I will call them when it's convenient for me, if they don't like it they can leave a message or send an email. I absolutely love the freedom it gives me and I highly recommend it to everyone.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          I just wanted to make Gilligan's Island joke.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:00 pm |
        • James XCIX

          nbha – "...and found that when you own a cell phone, it's more like everyone else owning you."

          No kidding. I have a cell phone, but it's a cheap flip-phone that is always off when at home. I have it just in case I need to contact my wife in some sort of emergency situation or she needs to contact me. Nobody else has the number. From my observation, those who pride themselves on being so "connected" are often just sharing trivia with each other.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:07 pm |
        • tallulah131

          I got it Doc. And now I'll have the Gilligan's Island theme stuck in my head all day!

          July 22, 2014 at 4:58 pm |
      • noahsdadtopher

        I don't own a cellphone, either.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Like Robinson Crusoe, it's as primitive as can be!

          July 22, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
        • believerfred

          noah
          The cell phone evolved from smoke signals and we have all the transitional evidence.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          @Fred
          Replace "smoke signals" with "Morse code" and your statement become perfectly factual.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:51 pm |
        • MidwestKen

          Neither is evolution in the biological sense because the objects don't reproduce.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm |
        • noahsdadtopher

          Haha. Neither do they have a transitional form that is part smoke part technology.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
        • LaBella

          I dunno, Topher. One can see how mobile phones "evolved" from the 90's til now.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:26 pm |
        • ausphor

          Topher
          I am amazed that you own or have access to a computer and the internet. With all the garbage/sin you can view, wouldn't that be a creation of Satan or at least one of the lessor demons. BTW by sin I mean what your lot defines as sin, not the rational world.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:27 pm |
        • noahsdadtopher

          LaBella

          "I dunno, Topher. One can see how mobile phones "evolved" from the 90's til now."

          In that they took a current piece of technology and improved on it, sure. That's using "evolved" in a pretty lax way. But one didn't procreate the other.

          ausphor

          "I am amazed that you own or have access to a computer and the internet."

          Practically a necessity nowadays.

          "With all the garbage/sin you can view, wouldn't that be a creation of Satan or at least one of the lessor demons."

          No. Those things are amoral. Though they can be easily used for sinning. But you can also use them to listen to great preachers/speakers and learn more about God through many different ministries' sites.

          "BTW by sin I mean what your lot defines as sin, not the rational world."

          Same thing. Something is either a sin or it isn't.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:34 pm |
        • LaBella

          Topher,
          I know; I feel I implied that by my using quotes around the word "evolved."

          I suppose I'll have to start using the sarcasm font for the humor/impaired.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm |
        • kevinite

          So join us here each post my friends you're sure to get in a fog. From all us crazy commenters here on the Belief Blog.

          July 22, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
    • LaBella

      I said on page one I don't think I've ever taken a selfie...I don't understand the phenomena, but then I'm not a young teenager who grew up with the social media like some have...
      Now get off my lawn.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm |
    • skytag

      Twitter is for narcissists, plain and simple, even when they don't tweak pictures.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm |
  8. skytag

    One thing the Internet has taught us is that no matter what you do there are always people out there who will condemn and belittle you for it. They are miserable people, quick to judge others because they are unhappy with themselves.

    I'm glad she was happy to be there. If she'd looked miserable in the picture I guarantee you there would be people complaining about that.

    July 22, 2014 at 2:06 pm |
    • observer

      skytag,

      If she was smiling in front of a place where your loved ones were murdered, you might feel different.

      But then again, maybe not.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
      • begreen3850

        I lived in Fredericksburg Virginia where thousands of people died during the Civil War.

        Time is passing and these places are losing their meaning except to the Jews and locals. At least a white girl pulled the money and passport together and took the time to visit the place. Obviously, it was a waste of time. She should have gone to a club.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
        • skytag

          Obviously you're a judgmental jerk.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm |
      • skytag

        I'd probably feel grateful that what happened to them mattered so much to her that she or her family made the effort to visit the place. Trust me, if you're murdered no one will take a selfie after traveling halfway around the world to visit your grave, so just relax.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm |
    • larry188

      The relentless pursuit of faux fame that the internet and social media has brought on is sickening. The special little snowflake in this photo probably cares not a whit what went on there – she cars about the fact that people might see her in front of someplace infamous; yes, little girl, you took a trip to Europe, congratulations, no one has ever been there before! This whole story is made clearer by the fact that when she detected the public backlash, and saw her face and tweet mentioned (very negatively), she didn't "get it" then either, but tweeted the photo again with "Hey y'all I'm famous!" as it's caption. Truly clueless behavior.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm |
      • skytag

        Unlike most people, who have all the clues by the time they graduate from high school, right?

        July 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
  9. observer

    skytag,

    It's fascinating to hear from someone who might have so strongly supported a happy selfie taken by someone on their first trip to New York to see the World Trade Center on the afternoon of 9/11.

    July 22, 2014 at 2:02 pm |
    • skytag

      Falsely attributing beliefs to me to attack me is both intellectually dishonest and pathetic. I'm sorry it bothers you when other people are happy, but that's not my fault, or my problem.

      Your comparison was disingenuous to the point of stupid and you know it.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:10 pm |
      • observer

        skytag,

        What is stupid is not seeing a similarity in the two. The biggest difference is that FAR FAR MORE people where killed in back of her that at the World Trade Center.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
        • skytag

          You're flailing. Someone who came from another country to see the WTC on the afternoon of 9/11 didn't see what he came to see. If people are coming from other countries to visit the WTC memorial 50 years from now it doesn't bother me a bit to think they'll be happy to have been able to do that.

          You obviously like to judge and condemn people. I do not. I don't need to do that to feel good about myself. You're judging and condemning because that's the kind of person you are. I prefer to be glad she went there and was happy to be there. It will stay in her memory and as she gets older and matures a bit her visit will no doubt become a treasured memory.

          Your need to condemn her is bad enough, but your need to convince others they should condemn her as well is just pathetic.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
        • larry188

          Yes indeed, it's a good thing you are such a non-judgmental person who would never dare to try to discern a person's motives from afar. What a joke.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm |
  10. Sal Esposito

    I am not sure anyone has the right to pass judgment on how people grieve or even when they choose to grieve. These historical places mean different things to different people. I have visited them all and besides the educated understanding of how and why they came to exist their is an emotional disconnect between what happened historically and todays evolved society. Do we show reverence for old prisons in the US because of the horrors perpetrated there? The very mention of it sounds preposterous even though we know so many were incarcerated because of race or creed or other bias reasons. I have seen Veterans laughing and chatting away at the Wall and in Pearl Harbor, who am I to say this isn't appropriate? Time and evolution softens the harshness of even the most horrible tragedies that is why we are clandestine to repeat them over and over.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:59 pm |
  11. comments999

    I love the quote in here about the difficulty of living the moment while trying to publish it. The issue that I see, and I have challenges managing this with my own teenagers, is that with the new technology and social media boom... life moves at an amazing pace and nobody has the time to actually let something 'sink in' and experience depth. The younger generation (or people who have jumped into social media to the extreme) tend to be used to this barrage of information and at a high velocity. But it means that many things are skimmed. This is a society challenge going forward since people can more information but at less depth and understanding (and empathy). Attention spans are tiny now. Younger people aren't 'bad' or insensitive... they just don't understand the magnitude of some events and are not used to allowing themselves to be immersed into a topic.

    I don't blame the girl for taking a selfie but hopefully someone has explained to her how it could affect others when they see the picture and why those reactions might exist. My personal example was visiting the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C. It is one of the most solemn places I have ever visited. A group of kids (some on skateboards) came noisily rushing into the area having fun and it took them a few moments to realize that people were looking at them. Nobody was yelling and they were perceptive enough to quickly stop running around and quiet down. I don't' think they 'get' what the monument represents or why it is so impactful on people but at least they did modify their behavior. It's just about maturity... eventually the younger people will grow up and appreciate the 'deeper' things in life and hopefully remember to be a bit tolerant of future younger people when they gain maturity.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:55 pm |
    • begreen3850

      You've never visited the Vietnam Memorial. People who visit that site have different reactions because different groups visit. Kids visit as part of a school field trip and wind up playing on the lawns surrounding the site. Old veterans either cry at the sight of their friends or family names or greet each other in joy at finding another vet. It isn't solemn or holy. It another memorial whose meaning is disappearing as time passes.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:41 pm |
  12. lunchbreaker

    Selfies are just so calssless. She should have asked a fellow visitor to take her pic.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:53 pm |
    • skytag

      Judging people like this is classless.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
      • ibagoalie

        Now you are judging that Poster, so make up your mind.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:14 pm |
        • skytag

          I judged him based on his comment. Why does it matter if you take a selfie versus asking someone to take your picture? Is there really so much difference it warrants posting a comment on the Internet to insult her?

          July 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm |
      • kingpinjoe

        The issue here is not one of "juding" people – it's one of the JUDGEMENT of people. In this case, we have a case of extremely poor judgement by a young lady who was totally oblivious to the historical importance of where she was standing. Auschwitz is a modern example of humanity's inhumanity to other human beings. When in you are a place like that, where human beings were so systematically eliminated, it makes you wonder what was in Princess Breanna's head when she took the selfie. Did she not listen to the tour guide? Did she not read her history? Did she not see the images of the suffering, or the quiet sobs of survivors who might of been there that day? Of all of the pictures that could have been taken at Auschwitz, our Princess decides to perform an egoist act in the midst of a place of immense human tragedy and suffering. To call this act out and show anger at the insensitivity "judging"? No. This kind of ignorant, self-centered, social media driven self-affirmation only show how very unsocial, insensitive, and truly unconnected to reality we have become.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm |
        • skytag

          I disagree with your claim she used poor judgment. And to whatever extent it was poor judgment, it certainly doesn't warrant the condemnation of hundreds or thousands of strangers, for God's sakes. Human beings exercise poor judgment on a regular basis, especially when they're young. It's not like she's vandalizing the place or taking naked pictures of herself there.

          The truth is that a lot of people derive some kind of perverse pleasure from condemning and criticizing others. Maybe it makes them feel better about themselves or makes them feel they're above others and in a place to judge them. If this had been your daughter would you really like the idea of thousands of strangers condemning her and talking about her as if she's a terrible person for smiling in a picture?

          July 22, 2014 at 3:05 pm |
    • MidwestKen

      Lunchbreaker,
      Perhaps I'm too old but what is difference between the two, selfie vs asking someone, other than he obvious.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm |
      • begreen3850

        Congratulations Ken, You've Won The Internet!!!

        Have some Rice-R-Roni and an AMC Gremlin.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm |
  13. shmuck52

    I guess they were serious when they said "We will never let the world forget" How about FORGET ABOUT IT..Tear that hell hole down it shouldn"t be there..Why the hell would anybody want to visit that place anyway? A MUSEUM ?Seriously!! Demolish it .

    July 22, 2014 at 1:46 pm |
    • skytag

      You're either trolling or a sociopath. Oh wait, trolls are sociopaths. Never mind.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
      • shmuck52

        That was intelligent.I know your a dummy..

        July 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm |
        • skytag

          I'm sure the list of things you "know" that aren't true is long and covers a wide range of topics.

          July 22, 2014 at 3:07 pm |
    • ibagoalie

      Those that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it...should we just sweep these 'unfortunate incidents' under the rug and pretend they never happened? It's already obvious that the current generation hasn't grasped the enormity of what the Holocaust was.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm |
      • skytag

        Breanna choosing to go there for her graduation trip tells me she understands what happened there better than most. How many times have you been to Auschwitz?

        July 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Why don't you go to New York and say that about the 9/11 memorial / museum.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:19 pm |
      • shmuck52

        911 actually did happen as for 6 million Jews being burned is a big lie there wasnt even 6 million Jews on earth at that time .Your just a follower do your homework

        July 22, 2014 at 2:30 pm |
        • In Santa We Trust

          The holocaust DID happen – millions of people WERE murdered, not only Jews but numerically speaking primarily Jews.
          What evidence do you have to support your claim?

          July 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm |
        • LaBella

          Facepalm

          July 22, 2014 at 2:44 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Population demographic are available from census data in many of the countries that were occupied by teh Nazis.
          Poland, for example, had a total population of 35 million, 3 million of whom where Jewish in 1939.
          By 1950, the total population was down to 25 million and a mere 100,000 Jews.

          Do you believe that the number of Soviet victims is also inflated?

          July 22, 2014 at 2:49 pm |
        • ibagoalie

          Yep, just goes to show with people like you and their 'conspiracy theories', is one big reason the world is so messed up. Bet you thought the moon landing was just a big Hollywood mockup?

          July 22, 2014 at 2:54 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Current international census data put the global Jewish population at around 22 million, with 6 million living right now in Israel.
          Do you think those numbers are also inflated?

          July 22, 2014 at 2:54 pm |
        • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

          So you use a Yiddish word as your handle and deny the holocaust. Curiouser and curiouser.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
  14. David White

    Reblogged this on Our stories matter and commented:
    Thought-provoking take on ethics in the digital age.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:43 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I'd say it's more a question of decorum than ethics.

      July 22, 2014 at 3:01 pm |
      • David White

        I find it interesting that this is even something that this even inspired someone to write a whole article. I think it is rather presumptuous that the writer projects whatever judgment he holds for the individual in this picture (whatever her intent) over an entire generation. To me what is perhaps more interesting than the subject of the article is the power of social media. 10 years ago this picture would have never been seen much less been the subject of a journalist's rant.

        August 2, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  15. kwg2252

    Anyone defending this girl's actions needs to take a serious look at themselves. The issue goes deeper than just taking selfies, in that her actions demonstrate a total lack of respect for the millions of people who suffered and died at that place. Rather than waiting 5 minutes until she could have left before engaging with the Twitter-sphere, she chose to let her narcissist flag fly.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:42 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      While there is empathy to be felt for the tremendous loss of life, you judging her makes you the one with the issue and you the one who needs to take a serious look at yourself. How rational minded were you as a teenager? Stop judging her unless you can say you have never done something others deemed foolish!

      July 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm |
    • skytag

      This girl had the option to go anywhere in the world for her graduation trip and she chose to go there. Somehow I think that shows more respect for the people who died there than anything you've ever done.

      July 22, 2014 at 4:27 pm |
  16. reno234

    Gawd, rip her gold teeth out why don't ya...

    July 22, 2014 at 1:34 pm |
  17. andrewa822

    I don't know where she was in the tour, but for me the truly gut wrenching feeling didn't come until I was in the room with all the shoes. You kind of academically know the story but that kind of made it hit home for me. I don't think I was smiling when I walked in, but some people have nervous smiles, etc.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm |
  18. skytag

    The people who complain about her smiling in the picture are miserable people who hate the idea of anyone else being happy.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
    • paburns1983

      15 minutes of fame was all she was after. Just had to have that attention, spoiled brat is what she is.

      July 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm |
      • skytag

        I pity people like you, always ready to judge and condemn people you don't even know to feel better about yourself.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:14 pm |
      • btldriver

        Why are you blaming her? She just posted the pic to those following her, someone else took the tweet and ran with it posting it to the news people. I doubt she's like the Kardashians (sp) and feels a need to post every little bit of her life, but then she is a Princess so who knows.
        Besides, unless its a mug shot, most people smile in their pics so when the camera was pointed at her the natural inclination was to smile so that's what she did. People are reading too much into it.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:41 pm |
        • skytag

          Haters hate. It's what they do.

          July 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm |
  19. skytag

    To Breanna Mitchell: I love your smile. Ignore the haters.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:24 pm |
    • observer

      To Breanna Mitchell,

      Grow up and develop empathy for others.

      July 22, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
      • skytag

        To observer: Grow up and realize you can't know whether someone has empathy by looking at a picture. I've studied WWII and the holocaust a fair bit and have lots of empathy for those who suffered in the camps, but I'd probably smile for a picture because that's what people do. Well, happy people do. Maybe not you.

        July 22, 2014 at 1:31 pm |
        • observer

          skytag,

          The truly miserable people are those who can look at those windows and not empathize with the people who were caged in those rooms waiting for themselves and loved ones to be murdered.

          Grow a heart.

          July 22, 2014 at 1:34 pm |
        • skytag

          observer: You can't know what this girl feels from looking at one picture of her. If you think otherwise you are delusional. You don't know her. You don't know anything about her. You don't know why she's smiling. Your need to condemn her points more to a problem in you than in her.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:19 pm |
        • observer

          skytag,

          Your heartless lack of concern for the solemnity of the location and the horrendous history that occurred there shows a problem within you. Try to grow a heart instead of supporting the mindless foolishness of a child.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:24 pm |
        • skytag

          observer: I am 59 years old and have studied WWII, the Nazis and the Holocaust more than most. As you have done with Breanna you arrogantly believe you can judge me without knowing me. Obviously that's just the kind of person you are, and it's pathetic.

          Breanna had the option of going anywhere in the world for her graduation trip and she chose to go there. I suspect that shows a lot more respect for the people who died there than anything you've ever done.

          July 22, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
  20. glibscribbler

    I agree with the comment about the parents; obviously they forgot to educate their daughter about manners and etiquette. This girl's insensitivity points to a larger problem: a lack of technological etiquette. Companies like Apple and Microsoft invent and market new technology, but they never teach their customers how to behave when they use it. They just dump it in the marketplace willy nilly. I long for the days of telephone booths, when people weren't forced to listen to others' inane conversations.

    July 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
    • skytag

      Given how happy she looks and that they took her to an important historical I'd say she has great parents. She did nothing wrong or inappropriate in smiling for a picture. Get over yourself. It's not your place to judge people for stuff like this.

      July 22, 2014 at 1:28 pm |
      • ibagoalie

        I will assume that you are a family member and you will be perfectly ok if I take a smiling Selfie next to her casket, if god forbids, she dies before you. I don't blame her personally, kids are clueless sometimes, but really, is it so hard to understand that some places, situations do not need Selfies taken...ever.

        July 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
        • skytag

          You are free to assume anything you wish to justify being a jerk. Your analogy is patently stupid. For the record I don't know the girl, but a world famous historical site is not comparable to a casket of one ordinary person. When you have to resort to such comparisons you know you're desperate.

          Is it so hard to understand that no one put you in charge of deciding when it is and isn't appropriate to take a selfie? It is arrogance on your part that has you believing your views on this are some kind of universal truth to which all people should conform or risk condemnation. They aren't. They are views to which you and those who share them should conform.

          She's 18. It's unrealistic to expect someone her age to grasp the full significance of the Holocaust. I certainly didn't at 18.

          July 22, 2014 at 2:30 pm |
      • theirmamma

        skytag....I would like to thank you very much...I am related to her I am her mother...I appreciate you seeing it in the way she intended it to be seen...she was given a choice to go ANYWHERE in the world for her graduation trip and she chose there...and she says if she had it to do all over again she would have still chosen there.......also what is funny to me is to see all the comments about her listening to her earbuds...the ear peice was for her to hear the tour guide....she had the same earpeices in for the entire week...this whole thing is just crazy...is there a way I can email you.

        July 22, 2014 at 4:00 pm |
        • skytag

          I'm not aware of any way to exchange e-mail addresses privately here, but tell Breanna I love her smile and to ignore the haters. She shouldn't let their issues and personality disorders diminish her joy.

          You have to appreciate the irony of people who have never cared enough about what happened at Auschwitz to go there condemning someone who did because she smiled in a selfie.

          Did she go there by herself or with your family? How did she come to pick that place to visit?

          July 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.