"There are always exclusions on the road to Auschwitz". International conference on exclusions in the contemporary world.
Exclusions were the topic of an international educational conference organised by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust at the Auschwitz Museum entitled "'If This Is a Man?' Exclusions in the Modern World".
'The experience of Auschwitz and the Shoah had a profound effect on those who survived. At the end of the war, many survivors appealed for their experiences to become a warning to future generations. Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi titled one of his books on the Holocaust "If This Is a Man?". His words are extremely topical in today's world, which is why they were included in the conference title,' said ICEAH Director Andrzej Kacorzyk.
Opening the conference at one of the historic brick prisoner barracks, Andrzej Kacorzyk said: 'This building bears the marks of the struggle for survival, for life, for memory. The barrack is a silent witness to the camp's history: the demolition of the houses of the Polish residents of the village of Brzezinka, the use of building material for the hasty erection of the Birkenau camp with labour from the prisoners' frail bodies. Pioneering conservation work was carried out here several years ago. Thorough historical reconnaissance of the site was significant. During the conservation work, numerous personal objects belonging to the victims were discovered. Each object tells the story of the prisoners' daily struggle for life.'
'It was a different world, but it was created in our world. Auschwitz and the Holocaust do not fall from the sky; they are both born and originate from somewhere. On the road to Auschwitz, on the path to crime, there are always exclusions. Two years ago, we asked ourselves at an education conference: "Auschwitz - never again! Really?" This year, in a way, we suggest developing this theme and asking about exclusions and why we doubt that the person next to us is equal to us in rights and duties,' stressed Andrzej Kacorzyk
The Museum's director, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński said the work of an institution of memory is difficult because our civilisation is drifting in somewhat troubling directions: 'If our work is to make people aware and mobilise them to care about the future, then we must all be concerned about the rise of antisemitism and racism, the growth of extremist ideologies of hatred in various parts of the world. Our inability to respond to the most severe genocidal crises must also be troubling. They don't trigger a response - as seen, for example, in the Rohingya or Uighur tragedies, in our lack of empathy for the refugees.'
'It is hard not to feel that the pandemic has deepened our emotional separatism. We observe the development of the language of emotion, populism and demagogy, which is considerably trivialising public debate in all parts of our world. It is compounded by the influence of social networks, which encapsulate the discussion in a very small, self-select group,' he added.
'The work of Memorials must take this evolution into account; hence we are reflecting on the very early stages of genocide this year. The dehumanisation of the enemy generally precedes the physical elimination of people. This is possible through exclusion. Exclusions that create a language of division using the apparatus of propaganda and verbal aggression can be seen in all the major tragedies of this world. The exceptional effectiveness of propaganda everywhere is puzzling. That is what we want to reflect on. Exclusions affect various minorities - including minority identities. If someone's right to identity is denied, the person feels it with all their being. The reasons may vary, but an attack on identity is, in fact, an attack on a human being,' Piotr Cywiński pointed out.
The conference opened with a lecture by Prof. Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch. He spoke about the universal characteristics of human nature that may lead to exclusion and ultimately even genocide and the next steps in the process leading to genocide.
'Man is an animal that uses symbols and classifications. We employ classification when we try to describe a phenomenon. It is an innate feature of our mind; however, we forget it is not an objective description of our surrounding reality but an abstraction created by us. We often place too much importance on this abstraction and use it against others. Excluding people from specific categories may lead to them being seen as strangers or enemies,' he said.
'Genocide, unfortunately, is not an exception but a rule in human history. If we are to combat genocide, then we must consider how we can influence human nature. There is only one race, the human race,' Prof. Stanton emphasised.
The first panel devoted to exclusion on account of religious belief brought together activists who deal with issues of Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-Christianity on a daily basis and who reflected on the reason for such violent radicalisation and brutal persecution affecting representatives of the world's largest religions. They included Logan Carmichael, Director of Advocacy, China Aid; Dr Farid Hafez, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Salzburg; and Dr Leon Saltiel of the World Jewish Congress, UN and UNESCO Representative and Coordinator for Countering Antisemitism.
The second panel aimed to present the true meaning of the exclusions affecting women and children during armed conflicts and discuss their consequences for excluded people. The panellists included Brita Fernandez Schmidt, former Managing Director Women for Women International; Léa-Rose Stoian, Deputy Director, We are NOT Weapons of War; and Marek Krupinski, Director General of UNICEF Poland.
On the second day of the conference Tuisina Ymania Brown, Co-Secretary General, ILGA World; Jovan Ulićević, Board Member, Transgender Europe; and Vyacheslav Melnyk, Executive Director of the Campaign against Homophobia, spoke about exclusions on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The guests discussed why LGBT+ people arouse so much intolerance, where the consent to violence derives from, and why there are cases of law enforcement agencies remaining passive in the face of persecution.
The conference ended with an emotional meeting with victims and witnesses of exclusion, who tried to point out the commonalities and differences in their experiences and what impact the experience of exclusion had on their lives. Participants in the discussion included Almasa Salihović, Survivor of the conflict in Bosnia; Maung Zarni, activist counteracting the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar; Linda Greta Zsiga, Roma activist encountering exclusion in Romania; and Dr Lutz van Dijk, historian and writer, representative of the LGBT+ community.
During the conference and open-call session, representatives of local organisations talked about their projects, which promote exclusion awareness in the modern world and provide genuine help and support to those who have fallen victim to it. The winners of the international competition "My memory, my responsibility. In my place", organised by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Institute, also delivered their presentations.
A summary of the conference will be published in a special issue of the magazine, Memoria.