History fades more with each passing day as all generations — but especially the youngest — let lessons from the past slide as immediate grievances gain salience. Across the globe, illiberalism has surged in nationalist movements, threatening the existing developed-world regime of democratic values and human rights for all regardless of immutable characteristics. Democracies have backslid to quasi-authoritarianism; other nations see far-right movements represented in parliamentary bodies and in presidential run-off elections.
In Poland, a country witnessing an erosion of liberal values at the hands of a right-wing populist party that’s curtailed only by mass demonstrations on the streets, the far-right movement has gained favor among neo-fascists angry at refugees and Islam. Their anger defies Polish history and shows pure and revolting hatred and a fascination — a lust — for the repressive regime that conquered and pillaged the country just 78 years ago.
During celebrations for Poland’s independence day, some 60,000 far-right marchers descended on Warsaw, throwing red-smoke bombs and carrying banners whose venom belonged in a celebration of Nazi Germany’s conquest of the state.
These proclaimed nationalsiists marched a “white Europe of brotherly nations” and a “Pure Poland,” a “white Poland.” They demanded that “refugees get out.” Others carried flags depicting a 1930s extreme-right symbol.
Some also carried banners depicting a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.
The evilest of them hung a banner reading “Pray for Islamic Holocaust.”
These protests faced no official condemnation. “State broadcaster TVP, which reflects the conservative government’s line, called it a ‘great march of patriots,’ and in its broadcasts described the event as one that drew mostly regular Poles expressing their love of Poland, not extremists.”
The Interior Minister called it a “beautiful sight” and remarked that the government was “proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”
Polish history is one of repression. It only reemerged as a sovereign state in 1918 after European powers divvied it up to satiate expansionist desires and remained free for only 21 years before Nazi Germany’s invasion started the Second World War.
Nazi Germany initially placed Polish Jews in ghettos, leaving them to suffer from illness and die of starvation, walled off from the rest of civilization with bridges connecting disparate parts of the ghetto. Warsaw’s ghetto trapped more than 400,000 Jews, with 7.2 people per room. 300,000 Jews in the Ghetto died from bullets or gas; 92,000 others perished from hunger or hunger-related diseases. Another 250,000 went from the Ghetto to death camps.
Three million Polish Jews — 90 percent of the nation’s Jews — perished during the Holocaust.
This is the history Poland’s far-right marchers glorify. The symbols they borrow, the words they chant, come from a Reich determined to wholly exterminate an entire religion. And yet, despite the genocide committed within Poland’s borders, too many in Poland support an Islamic holocaust.
Too many Poles ignore this history and embrace ideas they don’t understand to express their irrational anger at a religion foreign to them, and so therefore scary. History fades and dies, because of it, people might, too.