Here we are, at the Museum of ____*. It is a stunning building, its structure cunningly reflecting the history and culture of the minority it represents. As we enter its bowels, we first read of how the _____ first appeared in our country – earlier, probably, than most of us have imagined – and how they mingled with the society they’d encountered. They came sometimes as warriors, sometimes as traders, but mostly simply as settlers, seeking a calm refuge from the storms of the land they had dwelt in before.
We witness as their culture and society grew among us. Here is their temple, reconstructed; here is the cloth their priest wore; there is a festive outfit, and a description of a holy feast. A restaurant serving their traditional cuisine. Copy of a newspaper. We read the writings of their scholars and social activists – for the first time, since back then nobody outside the _____ community cared for such things.
We see as many of them tried to integrate peacefully into our society, while others shunned or even attacked it, and we muse upon the different approaches they represented, and what may have caused them. We read pamphlets written against them, often by people we now consider wise; we are surprised at the intensity of the fear-mongering, of the lack of cooperation and communication from both sides; we hear the appeals for assimilation, for abandonment of the faith and tradition we did not, and did not want to, understand. We feel the frustration of the more enlightened ______ at their orthodox brethren, and at us, for not making an effort to differentiate between the two.
We nod, sadly, at a growing, futile hope, as we see our society become more tolerant in time of prosperity, followed closely by dread as we sense the threads of anti-_____ grow ever stronger, as the worsening economic climate brings out the worst in people. We shake our heads at the irony of those who felt that the bad times are already behind them.
The last part of the museum is sad and terrible, but it’s just as we expected. We leave the dark confines of the museum shaken, but not shocked; after all, we all know well the history of how the _______ were destroyed, their culture wiped out. In the end, nothing they did to prevent our hostility mattered. We hated them whether they tried to assimilate or stay apart, to live among us peacefully or to fight us. We hated them simply because they were not like us.
We stumble out into the bright streets that still remember their shadows, looking around in disbelief. Was there really such a people living here, not so long ago? Was there really a temple here, and the faithful coming to pray to their strange God in their strange language, eating their strange food, wearing their strange clothes – and all that treated as normal, if slightly annoying, slightly threatening, by the “native” citizens of this once-multicultural city? And was all this really wiped out so swiftly, without a trace, almost without a memory?
We shake our heads again, and we walk home, promising ourselves that this could never happen again. Not here, not now. After all, we are not barbarians.
*) insert a religious/ethnic minority of choice.
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Anielewicza 6, Warsaw, Open 10-6 PM/10-8 PM except Tuesdays.