Dark tourism is travel to sites of human tragedy, such as the sites of the holocaust or the killing fields of Cambodia or even taking a walking tour in London of Jack the Ripper. Dark tourism is not a new phenomenon. In the Middle Ages Christians used to go on pilgrim- ages to Rome and be shown the catacombs in which the early Christians were tortured and imprisoned. More recently, Ground Zero in New York has become an essential part of the tourism itinerary for many visitors. However, media and transport now puts the places shown on the History Channel or of the history books on to the tourist itinerary. To some visiting such locations may be an act of reverence or even atonement while to others it is probably voyeurism.
O ver half a million people visit the Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940–1945) in Poland each year. The camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, testifed at the Nuremberg Trials that up to 2.5 million people had died at Auschwitz.
This figure was revised in 1990 by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum which put the figure at between 1.1 and 1.6 million. It is estimated that 90 percent of them were Jews.
Large numbers of Poles, Gypsies and homosexuals were also killed. A July 2, 1947 Act of the Polish Parliament established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the grounds of the two extant parts of the camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The site was given World Heritage status in 1979. In 1996, Germany made January 27, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the official day for the commemoration of the victims of National Socialism.
T he standard guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau lasts for two-and-a-half-hours.
However, given the history of the place and the significance of the events that took place there the question can be asked as to whether this is sufficient enough or whether tour- ism in such a place is appropriate at all. Alternatively, it could be argued that even this time may be sufficient to convey significant interpretive messages. Of course another issue is that such places are interpreted through present-day eyes. In fact the passage of time may be important in even enabling dark tourism locations to be promoted to visitors otherwise their transformation to a tourism attraction may conflict with the values of those affected by them. Regardless of the arguments it is apparent that dark tourism sites will continue to be a significant part of the tourism experience. The challenge got the attraction managers is to be able to handle the conflicting stakeholder values and interests that surround such sites.