Excluded from memory

In the course of our “Faces of Diversity” project, we have often looked at the members of various minority groups who tend to become excluded from various areas of society. In 2015, on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (January 27) and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, we have decided to take a look of groups whose members became the victims of the politics of Theird Reich, but which have later been excluded from memory, with only infrequent mentions during official ceremonies and with very few memorial sites dedicated to them, so that ultimately these groups are largely absent from discussions on the Nazi racial policies and are not perceived as the victims thereof.

We began with the lecture entitled “The Third Reich's policy towards minorities”, conducted by Professor Eugeniusz Cezary Król – a historian, political scientist and translator of German historical literature. During this lecture, we have attempted to determine which groups did the Nazis consider to be the enemies of the German state and society. We have also analysed the process of defining those groups, excluding them from the life of society and, ultimately, their physical elimination in the years 1933-1945.

The lecture served as an introduction to our further deliberations which we have based on a number of films. We began with the screening of the film “Szpital Przemienienia” (“Hospital of the Transfiguration”) directed by Edward Żebrowski. Tadeusz Nasierowski, MD, Ph.D., psychiatrist and author of publications dedicated to the subject of the Holocaust, gave a lecture before the screening. Once the screening was over, we conducted a debate on the persecution of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled during World War II as well as on their position in the society of today. We also organised a screening of the film “Dear Perla” directed by Shahar Rozen, telling the story of the Transylvanian family of Perla, an actress living in Israel, which formed a peculiar playing troupe that toured the towns and cities of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire during the pre-war period. Following the outbreak of war, the family became the subject of inhuman experiments conducted by doctor Mengele on people suffering from dwarfism. The film explores the theme of persecution of disabled persons by the National Socialists – a subject otherwise almost absent from contemporary cinema – while at the same time confronting the viewer with the manner in which disabled persons are perceived nowadays. Before the screening, the audience listened to the lecture by Magdalena Gawin, PhD, author of publications on eugenics and curator of the exhibition entitled “Eugenics – the struggle against racial degeneration”. Another film which our audience had the opportunity to watch was “The Forgotten Genocide” by Idit Bloch and Henriette Asseo. Consisting of unique archival footage and interviews with the descendants of the Holocaust survivors, the film commemorates the Romani people – a community which the Nazis believed to be suffering from an incurable disease – while also challenging the stereotype of “a nomadic nation with no homeland” and presenting the diversity of the Roma culture. Lidia Ostałowska, reporter working for the “Gazeta Wyborcza” newspaper and author of publications dedicated to the Romani people, gave a lecture ahead of the screening. The entire cycle culminated with the screening of the film “Bent” by Sean Mathias, devoted to the topic of extermination of homosexuals. Homosexuals in fact were among the first victims of the Nazi ideology, with homosexuality being treated as a felony against the state in that it was seen as a refusal to breed valuable, racially pure citizens. Every second person convicted under the so-called paragraph 175 never returned alive from the concentration camps. Those who survived had to endure imprisonment, torture and persecution, while after the war they have never been recognised as victims under the provisions of applicable laws. The lecture preceding the film screening was given by Joanna Ostrowska, PhD, researcher into the situation of gays and lesbians in the Third Reich.

The topic of Holocaust remembrance was also explored on our seminar, during which we analysed various works of cinema dedicated to the subject as well as their impact on the way in which we perceive and understand history today. Along with Bartosz Kwieciński, PhD, who conducted the seminar, we have discussed the manner in which the Holocaust is portrayed in contemporary popular cinema. Did the image of Auschwitz become the ultimate symbol of Holocaust? Or are there any other images associated with the Holocaust that may also serve as its universal portrayals? In addition, we have also organised a seminar on contemporary drama during which we analysed the works of modern playwrights who make references to the Auschwitz concentration camp when dealing with the subject of Holocaust. The meeting was conducted by Joanna Krakowska, PhD, editor of the “Dialog” (“Dialogue”) monthly magazine and university lecturer.

We have also organised a meeting with Paweł Szypulski, a museum curator and collection, dedicated to the project known as “Greetings from Auschwitz”. The project itself is based upon an original selection of postcards from a collection which took many years to complete. Nearly all of the postcards in this collection were written and sent by the visitors to the former Auschwitz camp to their families and friends. Silence remains one of the essential motifs in art which explores the theme of the Holocaust. Another important issue is decorum. Yet the postcards presented on the “Greetings from Auschwitz” exhibition propose a narrative that is radically different, being both verbose and inappropriate to the extreme. Szypulski’s project explores the issue of collective memory of the Holocaust – the way in which this event is remembered by the masses, having very little in common with the approach taken by scholars.

Like in many other of our projects, we have also decided to take a creative approach to the issue of Holocaust remembrance. In order to do that, we have organised workshops entitled “Remembrance in Comics”, during which we have come together to reflect on the horrors of genocide and to take a look at comic books as a medium that may also convey a historical message. Led by the comic book writer Monika Powalisz and the penciller Olga Wróbel, who conducted the workshops, the participants spent two days working on a storyline and artwork, creating short comic strips set against the background of World War II-era Warsaw.

Picture album with photos of the workshops:

fot. D. Matloch/ Muzeum POLIN