By Michelle Talsma Everson
Photos Courtesy of Christian Barbour
A dedicated high school student starts an online petition to change how visitors pay respect at the Auschwitz Memorial
Christian Barbour is a young man on a mission. A senior in high school, while he’s not Jewish himself, he is passionate about making sure the memories of the more than 1 million men, women and children who lost their lives at Auschwitz are honored properly and not disrespected by visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. He’s doing this through an online petition that, to date, has received over 13,000 signatures, raising awareness, and the hopeful creation of a nonprofit organization.
“What inspired me to start this petition was a TikTok comment that I received when I first started my TikTok journey saying that there should be some kind of change to the number of disrespectful visitors that come to Auschwitz and other camps like it,” Christian says. “The video that I had posted and the comment was talking about several instances where there had been disrespectful visitors in Auschwitz in 2019, which was the last primary year that they had their usual 2 million visitors.”
The petition’s idea is to establish an honor guard at Auschwitz. According to the petition and Christian, this is the general idea: “The goal is not to remilitarize the camps. The term honor guard can be used loosely here instead as a blueprint for what I am trying to accomplish—the honor guard functions solely for ceremonial purposes… It would exist as a never-ending formal funeral with a specific number of people to represent a particular part of the history of the camp, such as the number of years or the number of victims or the number of survivors. This is not to draw in tourists but to preserve and protect the memory of those who have died and maintain the level of respect that the site commands.”
“The people that will do this will also not be holding any type of firearm, such as The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he continues. “They will have candles as it’s customary to light candles on Holocaust Remembrance Day or, in general, when referring to the Holocaust, candles are associated. The goal is not to remove the tourist aspect from the site entirely but rather add more emphasis on the memorial as a historical site in human history. One of the goals is to stop the picture taking, specifically selfie-taking and other disrespectful acts toward the campsite.”
Christian adds that this idea is flexible and he’s still in the planning stages. He encourages those who support this effort to sign the petition but there will be more work to make his idea a reality.
“I have been in contact with members of the Polish government in order to get this done,” he adds. “I have not talked to them in a couple of months, mainly because Russia invaded Ukraine, which put everything on hold, so I need to contact them again, but that is a significant step in formulating this process.”
In addition to signing the petition, he is also in need of help to start a nonprofit organization.
“Currently, I’m in the process of creating a nonprofit organization in order to show that I have a way to fund my project,” he explains. “I am looking for people who have suggestions or are interested in shaping my project further because I have a rough outline of what I want to do. I have created my presentation, I just need other opinions, especially ones from the Jewish community and those communities that were affected to approve of everything that I’m doing or add their take.”
At the helm of this effort for nearly two years, Christian is passionate about making it a reality.
“I believe this is important because at the end of the day, places like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Sobibor, Treblinka, and many others that are lesser known graveyards or mass graveyards, are some of the worst tragedies to ever happen on the face of this earth and it’s not something that if you go visit should be a one-stop, check-the-box, get it out of the way visit,” he explains. “It should be a time to reflect, learn about the past, and learn from our mistakes. I believe in showing people how important this place is. Just because it happened a lifetime ago doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still have repercussions.”