A Hazy Memory in Poland

by Taaha Malik and Trevor Taylor

Poland has historically been the epicenter of various conflicts and disputes, and is certainly no stranger to global adversity. From years of subjugation at the hands the Russian Empire, to being the victim of Hitler’s first major conquest in Europe at the outbreak of World War II, Poland knows what it means to struggle for liberty, equality, and a fair position in the global arena. It is precisely because of these unique traits that one might find it so shocking that the Polish government and a vast number of its population have reacted so negatively, even aggressively, to the current migrant crisis occurring in Europe.

anti-islamist-protestor-far-rightIn recent months, Poland has seen a surge in anti-migrant sentiment, most of it (if not all of it) as a result of the sudden rise of the ultra-conservative right. With the growing numbers of helpless refugees fleeing their various warn-torn parts of the globe, it is rather astonishing that Poland has not only closed its borders to these desperate people, but actively defends its position by overgeneralizing about the violence of such a large mass of people. According to Poland’s top governmental executives, Islam by its very nature promotes violence against non-Muslims, and all those that adhere to it will naturally and violently attempt to overtake the world.

Recent reports and documentaries have shown just how passionately the people of Poland have reacted to the migrant crisis. Online videos show vast rallies being held, their speakers unanimously condemning those of the Islamic faith. News reporters on the ground describe the attitudes of locals, all agreeing that Muslims are sure to bring violence and despair to their country, should they be allowed to enter. Perhaps most ominous of all, photos, videos, and eyewitness testimony all reveal a strong nationalistic sentiment amongst the population, which drives the Polish people to reject anyone who is not of Polish-Catholic descent.

To one with a knowledge of major historical events, the scene could hardly resemble more the early days of Nazi Germany. When comparing pictures of Nazi rallies of old with modern Polish anti-migrant rallies, one can hardly spot a difference beyond the contrast between color photography and black-and-white. Even more frighteningly, ordinary citizens’ views of Muslim migrants are almost identical to that of ordinary German citizens’ feelings regarding the Jewish community. Just as the people of Germany learned their xenophobia of Jewish citizens, so too have the people of Poland learned to fear people of Middle Eastern heritage.

poland-anti-government-protestsThis becomes truly striking when one considers the cruelty that the Polish people suffered at the hands of the Nazis. How soon the Polish people have forgotten what it means to suffer such blatant and overwhelming racism and discrimination. It is well-known that Poland was treated ruthlessly and on a much worse scale than most other countries during WWII. Hitler had a strong distaste for the Poles, and believed they deserved the severest punishment of all. In this respect, it is simply astounding that the Poles have so quickly taken what could be the seeds of the exact same actions. The situation has the makings of being perfect irony, to say the least.

Above all, these recent developments leave us with several questions that, as of now, remain unanswered: How far will the Polish people go in this crusade against Islam? What does this say about the overall resolve of the Polish people? What effects will such a response have on the continuing effort to right the wrongs of the past? What effects will this have on the results of the now infamous Nuremberg Trials, which sought so nobly to bring justice to perpetrators of similar discrimination? Above all, why have the people of Poland sought such a stance on this ever-deepening issue, and why have they not used their own experiences of discrimination and oppression as motivation to help those most in need?

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