Today’s tour had a consistent theme: “thou shalt not be indifferent.” These words, delivered by survivor Marian Turski in a speech commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, echoed throughout our day; they are perhaps even more important for us to reflect on today, Juneteenth.This morning, we visited the Polin Museum, located within the former Warsaw Ghetto. The entrance to the museum faces the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, a memorial constructed amidst the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1948. At the foot of the monument, Howard Chandler, a survivor with whom we are traveling, explained the meaning of the monument: we should learn from the suffering and oppression in the Holocaust and use our knowledge to not let such a thing happen to anyone, anywhere.
Within the Polin Museum, many of us visited a special exhibit about the Ghetto Uprising. In this exhibit, we viewed photographs and read testimonies of people who hid in bunkers, tunnels, and sewers during the uprising. Many of the photographs we viewed were on exhibition for the first time ever, empowering us to witness evidence that has previously not been publicly available. The exhibit closed with two questions for visitors to consider:
What does heroism mean to you?
How not to be indifferent in the 21st century?
As we grapple with these questions during our time in Poland, we should also heed Mr. Chandler’s call and consider in what ways we can make reparations for historical oppression and work against societal indifference to contemporary oppression.
Today is Juneteenth, an American holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. I reflect on today’s events in Poland and the meaning of Juneteenth in a similar way: how can I both celebrate the perseverance through oppression and work towards reparations for our histories of violence, oppression, and injustice? May we leave this trip not only honoring the heroism of those who have come before us but also challenging our individual and societal indifference to historical and contemporary oppression.