There’s something distinctly captivating about the Polish city of Krakow, it’s beautiful and has a powerful story to tell. It’s the kind of city that makes you fall in love and the kind that you never forget. I’ve visited Krakow on three occasions and every time it leaves an indelible mark, plus a determination to change the world for the better.
Around each corner of the city there is a breathtaking building, each the witness to a heartbreaking crime and each with it’s own story to tell. It’s one of the many places that was left devastated by the Second World War with thousands of people dispersed and destroyed forever. The legacy of the Nazis is a heavy one to bare.
Yet despite it’s traumatic history there has been a concerning rise in the far-right in Poland in recent years and even more dangerously these groups are often left unchallenged. There are many reasons why this is the current situation but it’s essential to remember the context and to remember that Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union until fairly recently. The brutal occupation of the Nazis and the USSR led to widespread distrust of the authorities, a sentiment which still exists in pockets today. There is never a justification for hatred but sometimes the perfect atmosphere can breed this kind of feeling until one day a spark sets it all off.
It’s easy to see the Holocaust as a stand alone event, an enigma in the history of the world. Yet this is simply not the case and it’s so much more than that, it’s the accumulation of years worth of anti-semitism and the aftermath of a massive financial collapse. In this atmosphere contempt and anger bonded with a desire to find a scapegoat and a new kind of racism was born.
It was painfully ironic that the day we arrived in Krakow was the same day that the Paris terrorist attacks took place, different kinds of tragedy but a clear demonstration of what hatred can cause. It’s what happens when acts of racism and racist attitudes are allowed to fester under the surface and it’s what happens when we allow it to boil over. So it’s important that we fight back, challenge hatred at every opportunity and prove that love is ten times stronger than hate ever can be.
It seems incredibly fitting that this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme is “Don’t Stand By” a simple, effective and strong message that embodies everything that needs to be said. It can be really hard to stand up sometimes but it’s always the right thing to do and even when it seems like something small it can actually make the world of difference.
Having visited Auschwitz again last week it reaffirmed to me that it’s essential that we learn from the past, to remember what happened and the atrocities that were committed. Yet at the same time it’s essential we remember the stories of heroism, the bravery and the stories that demonstrate what love can actually do.
So to finish this rambling blog post here is a quote from a survivor themselves, Elie Wiesel;
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
So next time you hear someone saying something that doesn’t sound right or just or kind, don’t stand by.