9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS07 Memory, Culture and Public Discourse

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Physical Sites of Memory Building I, 1E6

What is the meaning of the past for young people? The sociological portrait of the contemporary visitors to the memorial sites of the former Nazi death camps

The aim of the paper is to present the sociological portrait of the contemporary visitors to the memorial sites of the former Nazi death camps in a wider context, and it is the result of the combined research project containing both: advanced quantitative modelling and qualitative deepening of the subject.
The portrayed characteristics focus particularly on the expectations and motivations of these visitors, as well as the importance of the visit and the very process of learning about the history and the past; that is, identified experiences that have the pivotal influence on these young visitors, the most important aspects of the visit, and knowledge provided for them. These portrait is based on the outcomes of quantitative sociological empirical research conducted among international youth (the secondary school children) visiting memorial sites in Poland such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, State Museum at Majdanek, and the Memorial Site at Belzec. To analyse these sociological characteristics, log-linear models with latent classes were used. The application of this multivariable approach is the consequence of the main analytical problem: finding the types of these visitors and correlate them to the characteristics that have explanatory function, such as nationality, age, gender or preparation for the visit.
Additionally, the contemporary visitors are analysed from the perspective of guides of these memorial sites, with whom focus group interviews were conducted. Particularly, the paper explores behaviour of these young people during the visit. Moreover, it contains the reflexion on the discussion about the significance of the history and the past in building or strengthening a collective memory and historical awareness of young generations. Finally, the paper arises additional questions about the identity as a process of the constant merging of the different understandings and interpretations of the historical and symbolical meanings of the past. All these additional facts in relation to the identified types of contemporary visitors to the memorial sites of the former Nazi death camps are used to provide a full explanatory portrait of them.