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The paths of memory informing today’s reality. From Warsaw Ghetto to Mariupol.

Kaddish at the 79th Anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Posted by Tomasz Cebulski on Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The 79th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising when Mariupol civilians are annihilated in the Russian siege was one of the hardest I ever participated in.

I was at the Nathan’s Rapport Monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19th 2022 when at the same time my thoughts were with my friends in the Russian sieged Mariupol and Kharkiv. Mariupol is fighting for 55 days, tying 6 Russian operational units in an uneven fight for dignity and strategic victory in Donbass over the mutilated city and murdered civilians. Luckily, in Warsaw the politicians limited themselves into making a background for their wraths. No formal speeches. No one ended with the politician’s favorite “Never Again” formula to fulfill the commemorative rites. No one is naïve enough after Bucha. Bucha is 20 km from Babi Yar in Kiev and the pictures of the Russian massacres in Bucha flooding the media for the last 2 weeks are hard to distinguish from those of September 1941. The same sand is covering the corpses.

I suggest recoining the “Never Again” slogan into “We did it again” – as bystanders this time.

The cultures of memory of totalitarian systems supported with academic research and educated into the society make a safety fuse from a gradual political and social decline into totalitarian regime again. The lack of such culture is dangerous.  Suppression of fact based memory took in Russia a systemic shape while the memory of Soviet victory over German Nazism became its own aberration leading again into useful political legitimization of new Russian imperialism. This time it took the crooked shape of corruption ridden Putinism as the new incarnation of Stalin initiated – RUSIZM- Russian nationalism. Russia has proved again to be the empire based on lies developing its own path of Nazism – National Socialism.  It has shown us where the selective and context deprived education of history for the sake of political propaganda is taking us into. Every genocide starts with words and Putin developed a truly Orwellian doublespeak in which the war is peace oriented “special operation”, freedom is slavery in the Russian filtration camps for refugees, ignorance is strength. Yes, our ignorance is Russia’s strength.

Unfortunately the lack of scientifically grounded, post war system of justice, able to investigate the crimes broadly and punish the perpetrators results in spread of  denial and ignorance based silence. This silence makes us to be grid locked into the vicious circle of genocides. Either as bystanders, victims or perpetrators.

The mimicked and belated acts of recognition and reconciliation with its totalitarian past among European and global corporations are showing their contemporary moral inability to confront with tyrannies rising.

They anticipate that people’s memory is short-term and we as species adjust to the next global conflict fast. “Business as usual” is always on the horizon. All in all, we have a historical record of adjustment and normalization of genocides that happened on our watch. There was a reason why a well known IT company, which through the Hollerith brand facilitated the HR departments of the German Nazi concentration and death camps became the key IT player in the post-war world. Or maybe the companies which fail to disinvest from Russia today have the historical awareness that one company which was a key supplier of Zyklon-B gas for the gas chambers of Auschwitz runs a brilliant business of selling home and industrial disinfection solutions in 2022. One can find the same logo (it was a bit simplified 7 months ago) in the metal canisters in the Auschwitz museum exhibit and the contemporary brand online store. Best possible practice in running a business at its prime both, historically and contemporarily.

I believe that with all the time and effort that has been put into war, Holocaust, and genocide awareness over the last decades, we are capable of prevention before the act of mass atrocity is committed. We are capable of stopping the slaughter before it is committed, rather than building superb museum in commemoration after the crime is accomplished.

Yes, we have learned to commemorate and build museums, but at the same time, we are still not effective enough at prevention. We are stunned and speechless confronted by the imagery of destruction coming from contemporary Ukraine. We need to find words, we have learned this language after 1945. USHMM was one of the key institutions working with the prime memory of the Holocaust survivors and collecting documents for the sake of building language of genocide description and recoining it into an educational narrative. Such institutions gave us the language to communicate Holocaust and genocides. We are not speechless any more.  But the USHMM have not stopped there and became the institutional pioneer raising awareness and documenting the other 20th and 21st century genocides. It was indeed uplifting on April 19th 2022 in Warsaw to see the delegation led by the USHMM director Sara J.  Bloomfield to unveil the USHMM exhibit “Some Were Neighbors” in one of the public squares of the city which was once destined into complete annihilation by the German Nazi and Russian Soviet totalitarian regimes. There were speeches making justice to the past but also making sure so that the paths of history are informing the today’s reality. The least we can do to the victims of an ongoing crimes against humanity is to be aware of the victims fate and to speak out on facts until the survivors can speak for themselves.

We need to build a narrative to resist the violence of Russia and the looming global indifference. I know that we are more prepared to take in those images once they are, one day in the future, an exhibit with captions in super modern Kyiv Museum of Russian War against Ukraine 2014-2022. In the future we can devise new disciplines of education and science based on this war experience. But now we must act so that the future Museum in Kyiv has less cruel content, lower numbers and its name finishes in 2022.

About the Author
I hold an MA in International Relations and Politics and an MA in Middle East Studies, both from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. I am a PhD in the field of Political Studies, writing on the changing patterns of Holocaust and Auschwitz memory. I am a scholar of comparative genocide studies and author of a book "Auschwitz after Auschwitz". I work professionally as Jewish genealogist. I am a guide and genealogist through complicated matters and sites. My research company Polin Travel was initiated in 2000 to merge three of my passions: Jewish history, genealogy, and guiding. The last 20 years brought many explorations, genealogical finds, and emotions that proved to be transformative for me and my clients. Pursuing an academic career I don't lose sight of moving my travel activities on-line with first successful on-line guided tours, on-line genealogy, supported with customized films, and lectures. During the COVID pandemic I initiated a new visual history and historical site interpretation project SKY HERITAGE PICTURES.
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