The Holocaust was undoubtedly one of the worst tragedies in history. The tragedy is honored with the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin — a site where about 10,000 people visit every day. Yet many of those people do not honor the somber events that took place and will take silly photos such as yoga poses, biking and even juggling. And one artist has had enough.
That artist is Israeli-German satirist and author, Shahak Shapira. Shapira has created an art project entitled 'Yolocaust' to send the impactful message that doing yoga poses is not the correct way to remember the Holocaust.
On Shapira's website Yolocaust, the artist replaces the background of joyful selfies taken at the Holocaust memorial with the grim reality of what actually happened during the Holocaust. Shapira designed the website so that hovering over the original photo reveals Shapira's altered version — and the true historical horrors the memorial honors.
The world "Yolocaust" is derived from the term YOLO - or "you only live once" - and Holocaust. The juxtaposition of the two concepts is jarring, which only serves to highlight the disrespectful nature of the selfies.
"No historical event compares to the Holocaust. It's up to you how to behave at a memorial site that marks the death of 6 million people," says Shapira on his website.
"It's a phenomenon I had begun to notice in Berlin and then I started seeing those pictures everywhere. I felt like people needed to know what they were actually doing, or how others might interpret what they were doing," said Shapira of his project.
To get the photos used for his project, Shapira searched through photos on Facebook and Instagram, and even Tinder and Grindr. Yes, people had even been posting fun selfies at a location called The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on dating apps.
Shapira's work has been called provocative, but the artist defends his work by arguing that the "the people and the way they present themselves" is more shocking than the images of dead bodies he superimposed.
"If I had used normal selfies, with people standing there doing nothing, I don't think it would have been provocative. The controversy comes from the actions of the people. I'm just changing the scenery," said Shapira.
"I am worried that younger people fail to understand the importance of these memorials. They're not there for me - for Jews - or for the victims, they are there for the people of today, for their moral compass. So they know not to elect the guys with the Hitler haircuts, because we could end up right where we were 80 years ago," said Shapira.
But not everyone is a fan of Shapira's work. Peter Eisenman, the New York-based architect who designed the memorial was critical of Shapira's work after seeing the site.
"To be honest with you I thought it was terrible. People have been jumping around on those pillars forever. They've been sunbathing, they've been having lunch there and I think that's fine," said Eisenman. "It's like a Catholic church, it's a meeting place, children run around, they sell trinkets. A memorial is an everyday occurrence, it is not sacred ground."
Eisenman contends that the environment of the memorial he designed and the environment of Nazi concentration camps are two very different environments.
"There are no dead people under my memorial. My idea was to allow as many people of different generations, in their own ways, to deal or not to deal with being in that place. And if they want to lark around I think that's fine," said Eisenman.
"But putting those bodies there, in the pictures, that's a little much if you ask me. It isn't a burial ground, there are no people under there."
But Shapira stands by his work. "Let's see what happens, let's see how many stupid, inappropriate pictures I have to see on the internet," said Shapira. "And if you're asking me is this right or wrong, then that's a good thing. It doesn't have to be one or the other, just having the debate is good."
Since the photos were taken off of social media sites, Shapira did not get permission to use the photos. However, those wishing to remove their photos from the site can email firstname.lastname@example.org. "I guess that's my compromise,"said Shapira of the removal requests.