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Today, September 1, 2016 will mark 77 years since the outbreak of World War II; 77 years since the world went to war and changed the course of human history. Gdańsk/Danzig was at centre stage when Nazi troops launched an attack in Westerplatte on the Polish Baltic, though the real mise-en-scène had taken place the night before in the German border town of Gleiwitz (now Gliwice), where Nazi troops staged a mock Polish assault on a German radio tower. The rest is history, or is it?
Just after the end of the conflict the wounds inflicted on every nation were still open and a long healing process began. Amongst reconstruction, reconciliation and overseas intervention, international and supranational organisations such as the UN, NATO and the European Steel & Coal Community were established and have since evolved and shaped international relations.
Fresh scars and a lingering climate of fear gave those on the victorious side an excuse to rearm and “prepare” for another potential (at times portrayed as imminent) conflict. Although the spotlight of repression and control shone on Central and Eastern Europe for over 50 years, the rest of the world regarded it as a minor production and neglected to give its players much of an audience. It took almost half a century for the unwilling actors of the Central and Eastern European stage to finally break character and break free from that theatre of the absurd, reclaim their stage and begin writing their own drama once again.
Old scars still command commemoration. Despite the generational gap between the days of war and today’s relative peace, nations and countries still need to look back and remember together. Is it valid to ask why? Why do younger generations who are significantly distanced from that episode in history need to take part in its remembrance? There is, therefore, a double memory: a direct one carried by the generation who actually lived through those traumatic events and allows reconciliation with the past; and an indirect one which is constructed, taught, passed on and allows for reflection and projection to the future.
As Poland and other countries commemorate their mutual scars this month, it’s important to ask about the purpose and use of memory. What sentiments does it feed? What values does it stress? And whose purposes does it serve? These are considerations to take into account as young pupils all over the country once again fill out classrooms to begin another academic year. After all, despite our natural urge to be the authors of our own drama, we need to acknowledge that we all share a stage and all of our roles are intertwined.
Poland IYP Feature: The Westerplatte Educational Trail
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