Travel Agency Causes Uproar By Promoting Trips to Auschwitz With Smiley Faces

Everyone has a ‘filter,’ the internal moral compass that often helps us in the decision-making process, leading us down the path between right and wrong, smart and stupid, cautious and reckless.

It’s that extra stop-gap.


That’s not to say we as humans aren’t flawed. Who among us isn’t?

But we have to be better than this.

Travel advisors, already held to a high standard, must be better than this.

Human frailty aside, this can’t happen: a European travel firm ignited a fury last week when it promoted trips to Auschwitz by using smiley-face emojis as part of its online advertising.

According to The Sun newspaper in London, Hays Travel posted ads on Facebook for trips to Krakow, Poland, which included a tour to the Nazi concentration camp. The ads, obviously since removed, featured laughing emojis with stars as eyes under pictures of the railway leading into the camp. Another ad shows the entrance gate with the sign “Work sets you free” written in German — under love heart emojis.

Need we remind you that Auschwitz is the most solemn place on earth, responsible for more than 1 million deaths during World War II.

It is most definitely not a place to be glib.

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What’s shocking is that this is not the teenage girl who took the selfie at Auschwitz several years ago, posing and smiling as if she was standing at the main entrance to Disney World and not one of the most horrific places on earth.

This is not a mom-and-pop operation with four agents crammed into a room less than the size of a garage.

No, no, Hays is a major travel company, the largest independent travel agent in England. Surely, there were layers of protection, yes? Surely there was a production line that, after the ad left the hands of copywriters, included fact-checkers, copy editors, account managers and more who would check the ad, yes?

I mean, not for nothing, but in my journalism career, I’ve seen more scrutiny overusing a serial comma than this.

What’s worse, however, and where we need to be better in the industry – and elsewhere – is that this apparently is not the first instance of Hays using questionable ad copy. The Sun reported that English historian Rob Brooks, 49, has been complaining to Hays about its ads for two years and is furious they are still being posted.

“It’s crass and unbelievable,” Brooks said. “I don’t expect Hays to be particularly highbrow, but have a little decency. What they have to remember is they are advertising a mass murder site. It’s not a jolly away to the spa for a long weekend — it’s a death camp. People should go to Auschwitz and educate themselves, that’s important. The lack of respect Hays is showing is appalling.”

For its part, Hays said in a statement that “We are very sorry that this promotion has caused offense. We will look at this again to ensure the appropriate sensitivity when we promote destinations including Auschwitz in future.”

There’s no need to “look at this again.” Use your own filter. Access your own moral compass.

Be better than this.

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