Poland now is a very homogeneous country: white and Catholic, mainly conservative. Walking along the beautiful Stare Miasto, the main square in Krakow, I looked nothing like a “proper” Pole: Brazilian of Japanese origin, “late” researcher on memory in the present, cultural trauma and the refugee crisis in Europe. Taken as a tourist lost from my Chinese group, I heard “Ni Hao” a couple of times, including on the occasion when I was in Majdanek. Visiting concentration camps provoked in me a disturbing mix of feelings, deep reflections on all narratives and theory I have read about the subject. It made an abyssal difference to be there, in all these sites. It happened here. Unexpectedly, my most striking experience was not in Auschwitz, but in Płaszów, four kilometers from Stare Miasto. Roma Sendyka (Jagiellonian University) proposes that “non sites of memory” like this, present some kind of ‘aura’ that may disturb and affect people. I was affected indeed. With no official museological proposal, Płaszów looked like an abandoned green area with people running and walking dogs, sunbathing and enjoying some free time – inadvertently close to mass graves and to the remains of an old Jewish cemetery and other concentration camp facilities. Layers of different cultural traumas were put in conflict over there: Holocaust; the polemical Polish identity as collaborators and perpetrators; remembering and/or forgetting; denial and reconciliation; anti-Semitism and xenophobia; refugees vs. ‘Polishness’; EU, Germany, and Russia vs. Poland; the far right increase in Europe.
For me, the most valuable aspect of the SPeCTReSS program was mobility as an opportunity for exchange and to confront theory with our own present perception and experience. I was invited to join meetings and to deliver presentations and a creative writing workshop; I attended several lectures and events in Poland but also in Paris and Dubrovnik; I visited memorials and sites of memory in Germany and Hungary; I volunteered in a refugee camp and met migrants that occupied a former hotel in Greece, and also due to people I met in Krakow, later I joined a Human Rights observation program in Israel and Palestine. So many past and present traumas.
The experience of secondment has so changed my professional trajectory but also my personal life: I had deep experiences and met such interesting people – scholars or not, who I’m very grateful to. I specially would like to thank Magda Heydel, Beata Kowalska, Jan Sowa, Roma Sendyka and Gabriel Borowski, all from Jagiellonian University; my dearest Polish friends, Beata Nowinska and Dominika Blachnicka, and Konrad Pedziwiatr; our inspiring and always encouraging Jennifer Edmond, and the program coordinator in Poland, Tomasz Bilczewski, that makes everything possible with such an astonishing efficiency and amazing kindness. Last but not least, my admirable and generous supervisor, Prof. Laura Izarra.