Poland's Nationalist March

Poland had a 60,000-person nationalist march Saturday, something that hits close to home for me since my family comes from the Poland/Ukraine border, and nearly all of my great-grandfather’s (who I knew) family was likely killed in Auschwitz. The march is terrifying, but I don't find it surprising based on my experience visiting Krakow a few years ago.

I went to Krakow largely to visit Auschwitz but also, to a small degree, to see the region where my ancestors lived (even if they did not have a connection to Krakow itself).

My visit to Auschwitz was highly commercial: people smiled for pictures by the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, and we of course exited through the gift shop. People on my tour were uncomfortable when I put rocks on memorial sites in keeping with Jewish tradition. When I returned from the tour and was walking around Krakow, I kept getting solicited by guides in golf carts, each one claiming to offer the best deal on a tour of Auschwitz and the Jewish quarter.

Then I visited the so-called Jewish quarter or old ghetto. The city heavily advertised its five still-operating synagogues, but my own exploration made obvious to me that this was a ruse–operating in name only. I think I saw the only five Jews still living in the city. (Alright, it’s about 200–barely enough for one synagogue.) Then I went to a gift shop where I bought my mom a figurine of an old-fashioned Jewish guy carrying water. As I was on my way out of the town, I saw one of the artists who makes the figurines. There was one more figurine being sold that I had not seen at the gift shop: a greedy-looking Jew holding money bags.

All that is to say that I saw a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism. It seemed deeply interwoven with Catholic nationalism.

Shortly after I visited Poland, it became a poster child in the U.S. for recovery from Communism and rediscovery of religion, the free market, and national pride. At the time, I was unsettled given what I'd seen, but I hoped I was wrong. Now, I hope people can see the connections between the religious nationalism and Saturday.


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