VIDEO: Never Again.

Poland at War Tours director and operator Damien explains why he has such a deep interest in WW2 Poland

Why this moment in History?

Video Transcript below:

When I discuss the history of WWII in Poland, I am often asked why this period in history is so important to me. I often find the answer difficult to put into words because the history is so immense and the answer quite emotional and complex. It is therefore not easy to answer in only a few words.

The truth is that the events of WWII in Poland, particularly the events surrounding the Holocaust, are so shocking, so dark, so evil, and so immoral, that it is difficult to comprehend, and as a result many people look away. Indeed, several people I have discussed the Holocaust with have told me that they tried to read a book or watch a movie about it and found it so upsetting that they couldn’t finish it.

The Holocaust is the single worst event in human history and in this dark chapter we see human behaviour that lies at the very end of the spectrum of the worst of what human beings are capable of. The Holocaust is so shocking that those seeking explanations for its perpetration often clamour for supernatural explanations such that it was an act of evil or that the perpetrators must have been suffering from some form of serious mental illness. For me, the scarier explanation is that evil is a human condition and those who carried out these atrocities were of sound mind who made conscious choices to murder millions of people and then go home and hug their wives and children. 

And yet if we can tolerate this darkness, if we can remain immersed in the Holocaust story long enough, we begin to see light amongst this darkness.

The famous Jewish Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer stated that in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Humankind now has three new commandments: 

“Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander”.

If we study Bauer’s words, all that is left for us once we denounce becoming a perpetrator, victim, or bystander, is that in the face of such atrocity, we must take action to defeat it.

The truth is, however, that people did take action, and, in my opinion, not enough attention has been paid to their deeds. There were resistance movements in almost every country in occupied Europe with the Polish Underground State becoming the single largest and most effective resistance movement in all of Europe and the first to bring knowledge of the Holocaust to the world. The Polish resistance was so effective that German commanders modelled their plans for a resistance movement on the Polish Home Army as it became increasingly clear that Germany would be invaded and occupied by the Allies.

Poland was also the only country in Europe that commenced two uprisings against the German occupier. The Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, against enormous odds, rose up in defiance in 1943 and at 5.00pm on 1 August 1944, “W Hour” (“Godzina W”) the Polish Armia Krajowa (Home Army) commenced what came to be known as the Warsaw Uprising in an attempt to claim Poland for Poles once the occupying forces were driven from their land. There were resistance movements in many of the Nazi concentration and death camps and uprisings by Jewish prisoners occurred in Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Soon after their respective uprisings, the Sobibor and Treblinka camps were closed and destroyed by the Germans. 

Whilst the actions of the perpetrators of the Holocaust lie at the extreme end of the scale of what human beings are capable of, the actions of those who fought to save the lives of Jewish people lie at the very opposite end of the same scale. Their actions represent all that is good about the human condition and represents what it is that I am most drawn to in this history. The rescuers goodness represents the antidote to the evil of the perpetrators and provide us with a model for how to act in the face of such atrocity in the future.

Following the establishment of Israel, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, was created in 1953 with the goals of “commemorating, documenting, researching and educating about the Holocaust; remembering the six million Jews murdered by the German Nazis and their collaborators, the destroyed Jewish communities, and the ghetto and resistance fighters; and honouring the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust”. 

Since its inception, Yad Vashem has recognised over 28,000 people as Righteous Among the Nations for saving at least one Jewish life during the Holocaust. Over one quarter of all those recognised as Righteous Among the Nations, more than any other country, have been Poles. This despite Poland being the only country in Europe where the Germans implemented an instant death penalty for anyone assisting a Jewish person that often lead to the persons entire family or entire village also being massacred. There are no better words than those inscribed on the medal given to the Righteous Among the Nations recipients, “He who saves a life is as though he saved all of humanity”.

So, if you ask me what it is about this history that so grabs my attention, it is those men and women who stood up to evil, risking their lives to help others. The Bible reminds us that, “Greater love hath no one than this: To lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. In a time of continuing turmoil in the world, I believe we can all learn a lesson from those amazing men and women who stood up, in the face of unthinkable evil, and showed us what it means to be human.

As I come to the end of this discussion about my interest in the events of WWII in Poland, I invite you to join Poland At War Tours for an immersive exploration of WWII in Poland focusing on the Occupation of Poland, the Holocaust, and Polish resistance, as we honour victims, celebrate heroes, and come together to say with one voice, never again!

If this moment of history also interests you, feel free to get in touch to find out more about our Poland at War Tours.

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