Last week, we had a wonderful lecture by Professor Stan Obirek. He discussed, among other things, what he considered to be the key, defining events of the country’s history.
At the end of the lecture, Professor Obirek asked us what the most striking thing has been on the trip so far. It’s a loaded question with many possible answers, but I think that mine would have to be all the similarities between the current political & social atmosphere of Poland and that of the United States. The current party in power in Poland, for example, is the Law & Justice Party (here called the PiS) which is a conservative right-wing party. Back in Lodz when we met with Professor Ela Durys, a colleague of Dr. Wright’s, she told us a little about the party and its actions. One thing she mentioned was that PiS replaced the members of a panel of film critics (who review movies at a film festival) with their own people. “Illegally, of course,” she added afterwards.
Another similarity I noticed is mentioned in a piece we read by Professor Michal Bilewicz, a psychologist at the University of Warsaw. In one section of this work, he discusses what happens in the “early stages of genocide”. He talks about hate speech, dehumanizing speech, such as comparing a particular group of people to animals or worse. During the Holocaust, this took form in the attitudes held by many that Jews were vermin, they were lice, they caused typhoid fever, and so on. Reducing people to the level of animals serves to take away their emotionality and disguise their innate “humanness” that would otherwise facilitate empathy for them.
Arguably, we can see this same type of hate speech happening in the States almost daily. Our current president is… passionate about his beliefs and has no qualms about sharing them bluntly and publicly. Mexican (gang members) are “animals,” liberals are “snowflakes,” immigrants are stealing our jobs, and so on. We are all used to these lines of rhetoric and dehumanization, but stepping outside of my own country to read about & experience another has really opened my eyes to the potential danger of the attitudes & actions of our current administration.
It seems like an alien, impossible outcome, but even Americans have created concentration camps for minority groups before (Japanese people during WWII, for instance), so we shouldn’t – and can’t – perceive ourselves as incapable of sinking to that level. As Primo Levi once said, “It happened, therefore it can happen again.” There is no longer room for allowing such hate (speech) in our social spheres.