Last month, nobody knew who Breanna Mitchell was.
But in the past few days, she’s become one of the world’s most famous teenagers.
Because of this photo:
Breanna was visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, taking photos of the camp along the way.
But it’s this particular photo that’s attracted thousands of retweets and tweets, most of them slamming Breanna for the picture.
Slamming is a weak word – some of the commenters are calling for her death.
Breanna explained that she took the selfie in honour of her late father, with whom she studied the Holocaust – however, he never had a chance to visit the camp itself.
Although the photo originally comes across as incredibly insensitive and inappropriate, Breanna say there was no malicious intent behind the posting of the photo.
“That trip actually meant something to me and I was happy about it,” she explained in a later tweet.
This isn’t the first time a teenager has made headlines for an inappropriate selfie at Auschwitz. Last year, a guy named John Quirke tweeted a picture from inside the gas chambers, with a shocked expression on his face. Unsurprisingly, no one was particularly impressed.I am deeply invested in Auschwitz. The blood of my own Polish family is deeply intertwined with the location. And I don’t think that Breanna made a wise choice in posting that photo in such a public forum.
But I wasn’t particularly outraged by Breanna’s smiling face when I read her story. And I wasn’t outraged by John Quirke’s shocked-gas-chamber face from last year.
You see, I have been haunted by the ghosts of Auschwitz for nine years.
I was 14 when I first visited the camp with my father.
What I remember is the rooms full of suitcases. Suitcases belonging to the people who boarded trains to their deaths, believing the Nazis when they told them that they were going to a better place.
I remember the baby clothes on display beside the suitcases. Baby clothes belonging to the babies who were burned in the crematoriums, along with their mothers and brothers and sisters and fathers.
I remember the displays of human hair. The endless shaving brushes, the shoes. I remember the prison cells – every single last one of them. I remember the photographs of the prisoners, lining the walls.
I remember the infamous irony of the Arbeit Macht Frei gate, looming over our heads as we walked through the camp.
I remember seeing the crematorium’s ovens and the old buildings which held the gas chambers.
I remember following our tour guide out to a beautiful river, one of the most beautiful rivers I had ever seen. It flowed gently and was surrounded by lush earth and native flowers and grasses. “Do you see how beautiful the vegetation is here?” our tour guide asked us. “It’s all because they dumped the ashes of the people here.”