My Homeland: Combating Hatred through Education in Poland

Wed, 12/09/2015 - 10:23am

Poland faces a horrible wave of extremism after the election of a new right-wing government. As an educator and Polish citizen, I am not only scared by this type of radical hatred, but it also reminds me of the past because the same organization that marches on the streets of Polish cities today, organized boycotts of Jewish institutions and forbade Jewish students from studying at Polish universities before WWII.

On Nov. 18, 2015, the Radical Nationalist Organization organized a demonstration in front of the Mayors’ Office in Wrocław, one of Poland’s largest cities, to protest against accepting refugees from Syria in Poland.

Photo from Algemeiner: An effigy of a Jew at an anti-immigration protest in Poland. One of the elements of this “event” was the burning an effigy of a stereotypic bearded Jew with side locks. People who took part in that demonstration screamed that France is guilty of the November terrorist attack in Paris because they accepted Muslims as their citizens. Nationalist speakers kept repeating the words of newly elected government members who said that we will not accept any Islamists in Poland.

During these protests, individuals shouted against the European Union. I am shocked that members of a state that benefits the most from the membership in the European Community dare to scream publically that,:  “They We do not want EU here.” I feel so ashamed when I hear the crowd shouting,: “Repent Poles., Poland only for Poles.”

And now, newly elected Prime Minister Beata Szydlo is refusing to accept Syrian refugees. And things continue to worsen here in Poland with the rise of xenophobia, homophobia and anti-Semitism that is eerily reminiscent of pre-World War II Europe.

I do not want to live in a country that is xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. That is why my colleagues and I at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews feel today an even stronger obligation to teach the consequences of hatred by using the eyewitness testimonies of the Holocaust preserved in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.

In addition to introducing students and teachers to the testimonies, we recently finished our second annual “Museum on Wheels” that brings museum exhibits to 22 cities around the country a traveling exhibit that presented POLIN Museum to 22 cities, including four music and cultural festivals, across the country over four months. The exhibit, which was shown at four music and cultural festivals, included a video kiosk where visitors could watch testimony clips from the Visual History Archive of Holocaust survivors talking about life before World War.

A total of 14,275 people visited “Museum on Wheels.” Accompanying the exhibit itself was a program of events, including workshops, games, lectures, meetings with representatives of the Jewish religious community, Jewish cemetery cleanups, film screenings, museum classes and more.

As educators in Poland we are working very hard to combat this ideology of hatred and intolerance. As young people are becoming more extremists in their views and even declaring “Poland is for Poles,” there is hope. Luckily, the teachers who are coming to our museum seem to be alert, and more and more people are making reservations for museum lessons dedicated to anti-discriminatory education.

Monika Koszyńska