A Forced Claim of National Innocence

Krakow is an old but beautiful city filled with charm and character. I couldn’t help but admire the bright and colorful old buildings as I explored the town square, as well as the quaint street food stands that lined the marketplace. However, as I toured different locations throughout Poland, namely Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Oskar Schindler museum, I also couldn’t help but notice a common theme of Polish victimization and claim to national innocence. This was portrayed not only through the museum displays but also the local people and what they believe in.

Colorful buildings within the town square of Krakow.

The first of the two places we visited, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was a very emotional experience and the sufferings and victimhood of both Poles and Jews was very apparent. We were led on a tour throughout the camps by a very informative guide who graduated from the University of Wisconsin who did not shy away from the details of the sufferings of the Jews and the large population of Poland who were killed. Needless to say, the blame of these acts of genocide was placed upon the Nazi regime.

Watch tower inside Auschwitz I concentration camp.

The second of the two places we visited was the Oskar Schindler museum, which was mainly focused on how life was in Nazi- occupied Krakow. Here, we were led on a tour by a local Polish woman who was incredibly informative on the history of her city. However, here is where I started to really notice the Polish claim to national innocence. When explaining the breakout of the war and occupation of Poland she frequently spoke defensively about it, using claims such as “We didn’t have enough time to rebuild after WWI.” Additionally, when asked about Polish complicity with the Holocaust and Nazi regime, she was never able to give us a full answer, never really admitting that this ever occurred. Later, I discovered that Poland had a law which made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi German crimes.

After visiting these sites and participating in tours led by both Americans and Poles, I was able to compare and contrast their perspectives on the history of Poland and World War Two. By doing this, I noticed how the Polish national memory worked itself into museums and how they stressed national innocence during WWII. Being able to see the way national memory plays into the histories of the different countries we visited is crucial in being able to compare the differing perspectives and arriving at an accurate conclusion about what actually happened during WWII.

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