Memory dialogues on antisemitism and racism
International and interdisciplinary workshop for students and experts from Germany, Norway and Poland
Phoebe Genschow, Merle Kluge, Xenia Rachow, Anna Reinert, Ines Schröder, Stefan Strietzel, Liska Toppe, Irmgard Zündorf
The international and interdisciplinary workshop “Memory dialogues on antisemitism and racism” was planned for students of film studies, public history, design, psychology and journalism coming from Volda University College (Norway), the Free University of Berlin (Germany), the University of Bergen (Norway), SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wrocław and the University of Warsaw (Poland). It was organized in partnership with the Falstad Center (Norway) and hosted at the POLIN Museum Warsaw.
Recognizing, dealing with, and preventing antisemitism and racism is a growing concern for contemporary societies and communities. As brutalization in our society seems to increase in both the physical and digital world – the number of discriminating incidents related to racism and antisemitism seems to grow accordingly. And this comes not only from private persons, but also from public persons, as we could currently see and hear.
In this workshop, the participants developed anti-discriminatory activities and conceptualized appropriate media projects. Its aims were to network students, experts, and educators as well as to reflect on social history.
For this we, 24 students and 5 lecturers, met at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland from 22 to 29 October 2022.
After a warm welcoming dinner on Saturday and a first getting to know each other the workshop officially started on Sunday morning at the education center of the POLIN Museum. The day began with a more formal and official introduction of participants, lecturers and coordinators. Everyone said a few words about their educational background and their motivation for participating, organizing and working on the topics of antisemitism and racism. We all hoped that the interdisciplinary approach would result in an interesting and challenging but productive work process as well as in a great result that could possibly even be used by the POLIN. After a quick coffee break, we got a brief introduction about the POLIN Museum and the Falstad Center, a peace and human rights Foundation in Norway. The POLIN Museum focuses on the history of Jews in Poland. Besides their main exhibition, they have different special exhibitions and an education center where they organize and conduct anti-discrimination programs. In order to learn more about the museum’s work and content, we had the whole afternoon to walk through the exhibition for ourselves. We were only given a small assignment while visiting the exhibition: to focus on “storytelling in museum contexts”. What makes a particular impression on us? What do we feel at which places, which emotions are stimulated and for which reasons could this have been the case? We later discussed this in our groups to present it to the others the next day.
On Monday morning we talked about our impressions of the POLIN Museum. Our discussions included aspects of design, interactive stations, and other specific topics which we recognize as outstanding in the POLIN Museum.
Afterwards, the curator Małgorzata Bogdańska-Krzyżanek informed us about contemporary artists who cooperate with the POLIN Museum. Most of the featured artists used items as an inspiration which the POLIN collects and exhibits. Marta Frączkiewicz, another curator of the POLIN, brought five special items out of the collection. We got the chance to see and take photos, for example of a silk tie with a label informing about the “Christian company” to distinguish it from enterprises run by Jewish persons from 1934 to 1939. Another example was a brooch which was made of a coin from the Łódź ghetto in the 1940s. In addition, we got to know how to use the digital collection andonline archive of the POLIN Museum.
As soon as the coffee break finished, we got a professional guided tour by Dagmara Manka-Wizor through the permanent exhibition of the POLIN Museum with a focus on the presentation of antisemitism. We discussed how antijudaism and antisemitism have changed over time and how they can be presented.
As an interdisciplinary and international group, it was important to inform each other about country-wise perspectives on antisemitism, racism and hate speech. Therefore, each university prepared a short presentation. In addition, Prof. Dr. Michał Bilewicz taught us about how society in different central European countries deals with prejudice against Jewish persons. Furthermore, we learned how sexism, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and anti-Muslim attitudes are connected and that conspiracy theories have a high position in Polish politics.
On Tuesday we discussed not only the guided tour through the exhibition, but also the workshop in general. The participants, me included, commented on how they liked the tour, what stuck out to them and what they would have liked differently. In general, the workshop was received very positively, especially the lectures from various people, who are connected to the museum or the topic of antisemitism, racism and hate speech.
After the discussion, the last lecture was done by Hejtstop Activist Jacek Mazurczak. He presented us with three examples of actions against hate speech. The first two had a rather comedic touch to it. For example, during a neo-Nazi demonstration in Germany activists turned the Nazi march into a charity walk against hate speech. The further the neo-Nazis walked, the more money they raised for charity, so they walked against themselves. The third example was a video made with different persons, who in one way or another came in contact with hate speech, for example a mother, who lost her son through suicide triggered by hate speech. This was followed by a small group work where we were introduced to the Gamma method. For the last example we had to figure out what the goal, the audience, the message and messenger, the media, the action was and how it was monitored and evaluated.
On Wednesday we teamed up in four mixed groups of five to six students, so that there were students from every discipline and every country in each group, in order to start working on the main assignment of the workshop, namely, to develop our own ideas for projects on the topics of racism, antisemitism and prejudices today. The guidelines suggested examples such as creating an area, a virtual space, educational material, or a campaign in or for the POLIN Museum, but generally the form and focus of the final project idea was up to us. After an initial round of brainstorming within the group, we discussed our first ideas for a potential project and reflected on the obstacles we were facing in our work so far during a coaching session with our lecturers in the afternoon. With the lecturer’s feedback, we then continued our group work. Thursday morning, two groups each introduced their new preliminary results to each other and the lecturers in a tandem presentation, pointing out the challenges we encountered throughout the process and gathering new input and feedback from the others. On Friday, after additional hours of group work, the students presented the concepts of their group work.
In group 1 (Alicja Polak , Liv Tveide Lilleslett, Julia Radzikowska, Ida Hattenberger, Linda Karia Løvheim, Xenia Rachow) we created the project „Mymate“. It consists of a photobooth that we would like to set up at the POLIN Museum. In it, you can take a photo of yourself and can answer certain questions in order to illustrate your own interests. Based on this kind of characterisation, a "partner" is suggested to you who has similar interests or who has answered the questions in a similar way. In addition, one can learn more about this person and her/his life story. These "partners" are volunteers who come from certain groups and were willing to tell us their stories. In the end, you can go home with photos and stories of other people you might never have met otherwise.
In group 2 (with Stella Hag, Signe Wohlfeil, Aleksandra Mikołajczyk, Gabriela Cieślak, Merle Kluge and Stefan Strietzel) we planned a participatory exhibition showing today’s Jewish life in Poland. Going through the exhibition at POLIN museum, we thought that there was a lack of current Jewish perspectives. The only thing shown in the exhibition was a video at the very end, in which (Polish-)Jewish people spoke about their perspectives on Jewish Life in Poland today.
It reminded us of a larger problem that we can see in different countries. Thinking about Jews, for many people first associations are the holocaust and suffering of antisemitism. Though these are important topics, it is a reduction of the vivid diversity of today’s Jewish culture. In our project we wanted to tackle that problem by giving Jewish-Polish people the opportunity to develop their own exhibition sharing their own stories.
Our vision and thinking of the project went through a sharp development. The starting point was the idea of video interviews connected to items from the exhibition. We wanted to show that these objects not only are part of the history of the gone Jews, but still have some meaning to living Jewish people. By interviewing Jewish people with different cultural backgrounds and ages, religious and secular, we wanted to also show their diversity.
Thinking more about concrete interview questions, we became aware of the fact that we actually know very little about Jewish life in Poland today. Furthermore, by us giving the questions, we would always have some bias in it. In the end there could only be answers to our questions – not any genuinely own stories. To tackle that issue, we changed the concept from product to process orientation. Our role should not be to curate an exhibition, but to moderate and facilitate its making by members of the Jewish community.
Reaching out to a mixed group of about 20 Jewish people in Poland, we planned shared workshops about objects from the museum, storytelling and curating an exhibition. Finally, they can bring their own items (in a broad sense) if they like to share their stories. This doesn’t have to be something directly connected to Judaism like a kippa or menorah, but something that bears a personal meaning – from a childhood song to personal belongings. In the end we cannot tell how that exhibition would look like – but that’s part of its concept. We are curious and excited for its outcome.
Group 3 (with Mohamed A. Abukar, Malgorzata Kopycka, Anna Reinert, Liska Toppe, Kaja Wojciechowska) created a project called „diverSEEty”, aiming towards the goal of making cultural and ethnical diversity in Poland more visible and showing that diversity has always been part of Poland’s history. The idea came from existing stereotypes, taboos and missing education around and about cultural and ethnical minorities in Poland, which leads to social polarization and discrimination. To work against that, the group wants to emphasize and sensitize high school students about cultural diversity in Poland.
To achieve that, the project is composed of three interwoven parts. A traveling exhibition (1), which will grow through workshops (2), preceded by a video project (3). The project will run from 21 March 2023 to 21 March 2024, starting and ending at POLIN Museum. The videos created in the video project will be a mix of interviews, lifestyle portraits, dialog formats from and with people from minorities in Poland, including, for example, Jewish, Roma and Ukrainian communities. They will be used in the workshops and for a social media campaign around the project. Part of the social media will also be the #diverSEEty and Instagram takeovers during the traveling exhibition.
The traveling exhibition will travel all over Poland, especially to the countryside, and will have a set main part to inform about the historical context and in general about the life of minorities in Poland, to educate and show that diversity has always been part of Poland’s history. To make the learning more enjoyable, the app “actionbound” will be used to gain knowledge in a more playful way.
In addition to the main exhibition, it will grow through workshops, in which students are going to create objects with the goal of making the cultural and ethnical diversity in Poland more visible. How the students are going to do that in a positive creative way and what they will create is up to them; they will be professionally guided bylocals, professionals, historians etc. In the end, the complete exhibition (main exhibition, videos, created objects) will be shown at POLIN Museum as a temporary exhibition.
The concept of group 4 (with Bethel Britto, Thale Meisfjord, Kalina Zalewska, Maria Olech, Phoebe Genschow and Ines Schröder) is about a project called „bez szuflad“. Roughly translated this means „not labelling“. The project itself contains a poster campaign all over Poland which leads the viewer towards an interactive website. Since the campaign deals with different kinds of discrimination, including racism in Poland today, it starts at 21 March 2023. At the webpage the viewer can either share his*her own experiences being discriminated on an interactive map or he*she can learn about different kinds of discrimination. Therefore, the website provides definitions of racism for example and the history of different discriminated groups in Poland. The latter not only focuses on the discrimination but also on other parts of daily life and culture of these certain groups. This is also the case in another core part of the website: In animated video interviews discriminated people in Poland answer questions concerning discrimination, daily life etc. As different groups facing discrimination in Poland today, Jewish people, Roma people, LGBTQI+, BIPoC and refugees from different places can be interviewed.
The idea to show multiple ways of discrimination and diversity in general is based on scientific databases which reveal that a person who spreads and executes racism for example often also tends to other kinds of discrimination. Due to this information the campaign focuses not only on racism or antisemtism or homophobia and so on. One goal of the project is that the viewer – possibly a so called ‚bystander‘, which means a person neither participating in discriminatory activities nor preventing them – gets aware of the issue of multiple kinds of discrimination in Poland. The viewer shall also be encouraged to challenge his*her own prejudices against the presented groups. For those who are getting discriminated themselves the mentioned interactive map at the webpage offers a platform to see how many people face the same issues – an experience which can be seen as one first step of empowerment.