On my last walk in Bodzentyn, where I was staying on my trip, I saw a plaque on the side of an old house. Obviously, I went over to read it. It’s a sign of remembrance of 39 local people killed or rather executed there on the 1st of June in 1943 by German soldiers. There are thousands and thousands of such signs all over Poland and other countries that suffered in the second world war. I always read them as a visible part of local history in the global events that, for the most part, are slowly being forgotten. Or their significance already fades away.
Everybody in the western world had heard about the second World War. There is no escaping the knowledge and its still visible effects on every part of Europe and every other part of the world where battles and occupation took place. But I am afraid that for a lot of young people this is only a dry historical fact, with casualties numbers that are beyond the compression. But looking at this memorial sign and reading the names, the real horror of the cruelty of people against other people becomes palpable.
It happened only 79 years ago. There are still people alive who were aware of that mass murder or even were the witnesses as it happened. There might be people alive who were doing the killing. But for sure there are descendants of those people on both sides for 3 generations now still alive. Looking at the last names on that list, there are several sets of brothers, a father and son, a mother and daughter, a grandfather and father and sons. Whole families were destroyed and lives were shattered in a single salvo of bullets from aggressors against local residents.
Now it’s been 77 years since the end of the war. And how exactly have both sides fared since then? The aggressors and killers suffered a lot of casualties on the eastern and western fronts and lost the war. On paper, at least. They were pacified and bribed against going to the war again by developing an extremely high standard of living brought on by economic recovery and help from the winners. The victims went from one occupation to 45 years of the communist yoke. The poverty, backwardness, superstition, rampant substance abuse, and violence were, are, and will be a part of living in those places.
Why are the descendants of victims made to suffer more and be kept as lower-category human beings? Why are descendants of murderous aggressors enjoying affluent and easy living?
I don’t know the answer and I don’t know if any reparations, be they forced or self-willing, can make up a difference and even up the clear contrast between the two sides? All I know is that the crimes and iniquities are not easily forgotten. Even when both sides are now joined in a continent-wide union. And have a cordial relationship. The playing field is still not level and new conflict is a possibility for the future. Especially when one side does not see the other as an equal partner, as the current negotiations between Germany and Russia clearly show. There is a country between them that suffered enough from their superiority complex and yet again is ignored.
And no, we don’t learn from history. Especially those who claim to lead us are blind and willingly obscuring. And that goes to every single side in the whole quagmire. Those who know can only helplessly observe. No one heeds the warning signs like this one on the side of an old house in Bodzentyn.