This August, I participated in an exciting new program, the inaugural “Seminar on Wheels: Exploring Poland/Polin” designed for young American academics, educators, curators and activists or arts educators. The program organizers were especially interested in attracting those with Polish roots, like myself.
I was fortunate to share this journey with a fantastic and diverse group of people: most of us hailed from the U.S., but one participant came from Mexico and another currently lives in Poland, and the vast majority work with college students.
The program was quite intensive (we barely had any down time), but also incredibly generous: aside from being hosted at excellent restaurants, there was a very conscientious effort on part of the organizers to provide us with any information and contacts we might need for our jobs as educators or academics.
We visited fascinating museums, such as the POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews and the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow at Oskar Schindler’s factory, and attended a few lectures delivered both by academics and prominent figures in Polish-Jewish life.
We also spent an obviously harrowing day visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau, as well as the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oswiecim, which comprises a museum of town’s Jewish life and an educational center that hosts lectures and exhibitions on topics pertaining to tolerance and multiculturalism (and also has a café and a beautiful garden).
The program placed great emphasis in the need to develop a more nuanced perspective of the history of Jewish life in Poland, one that takes into account the richness of centuries of coexistence together with the more negative and tragic aspects of that shared life.
It also placed great emphasis on the need to create a more inclusive (and perhaps more compassionate and reconciliatory) historical narrative, in which the history of Jews and Poles is seen as interwoven one with the other. One important example of this would be to develop a perspective of the Holocaust that takes into account the implications of a repressive occupation by the Nazis, which not only victimized non-Jewish Poles in various ways, but also led to the blurring of moral codes (and can’t that be said of any repressive occupation?).
That the program was funded by The Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland Foundation and Senate of the Republic of Poland marks a significant effort to create and promote a more collaborative response to the past, a different dialogue about the Jewish past in Poland, as well as create a shared sense of history and identity for Polish Jews and non-Jews to build on.