In Krakow, Poland, we visited Oskar Schindler’s Enamel factory. In the beginning of World War II, Schindler viewed the factory and cheap Jewish workers as a way to earn a higher profit. However, greedy feelings developed into heroic actions and Schindler’s factory became a tool he utilized to help save 1,200 Jewish lives. Today, Schindler’s factory has been transformed into a museum that showcases both the lives of Schindler and the people he helped save, as well as the Polish experience during World War II.
While walking around the museum our fantastic tour guide explained the ambiguous morality of everyone during the war. She claimed there were good and bad guys on all sides. She also mentioned repeatedly how it is unfair to judge other people’s past actions without understanding their full story. I thought it was interesting how many times she reinforced this idea. Her tour highlighted the victimization of the Polish population, Jews and Christians alike. Yet, there was a distinct lack of mentioning the culpability of some within the Polish population. After reflecting, I believed this to be noteworthy. I did not know until after the tour that in Poland it is illegal to discuss Polish accountability for the Holocaust.
Politics in Poland are to be blamed for this law. During the war, although, it is easy to look at both Polish citizens who were helpful and those who were complicit, there is instead a political movement to erase any guilt surrounding the Polish narrative of World War II. I cannot generalize and say everyone in Poland agrees on this historical misrepresentation or omission, but it is what numerous people voted for. I think this represents Poland’s national character as continuously sensitive to their past involvement in World War II. For some of the Polish population, the experience of the war still appears to be a wound that has not fully healed.
In comparison, while in Berlin, Germany, we visited the Topography of Terror museum. At every exhibit there were a multitude of pictures that showcased the Nazi’s horrific actions throughout the war. For example, there was a picture of Nazis beating up an elderly man on the ground in the middle of the street while onlookers watched speechless or in amusement. The museum’s representation of terror highlighted how the Nazis utilized emotional manipulation, especially of fear, to force people to follow their agenda without question. This museum was blatantly honest with Germany’s past actions. There was no omission or denial of history, like in Poland.
I took away from this museum, and the many others we saw while in Berlin, that majority of the German population acknowledges and continues to acknowledge their murderous role in the Second World War. Germany does not want to hide the past so everyone can forget, instead, Germany wants everyone to remember to ensure that their past actions will not be repeated.
In conclusion, the differing national perspectives of World War II were extremely interesting to see within such a short time frame. Going from Poland immediately to Germany really enforced how differently the war is discussed amongst the general population. Both nations are dealing with a complicated past in two different ways. While I understand how hard it is to grapple with victimization as well as culpability within a nation. I think Germany does a decent job in representing their personal narrative as accurately as possible.