Remembrance Forgetting

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By James Field

With anti-Polish hate crime on the rise in Britain, the irony of this misplaced hate, particularly around this remembrance period, seems lost on many young people.

Attacks on Polish immigrants are on the rise in post referendum Britain, and some educators want school curriculums to highlight the Polish contribution to the war effort.

The latest statistics published by the National Police Chief’s Council UK this month indicated a 49% rise in incidents of hate-crime to 1,863 the last week of July, compared to the previous year, and the trend continued with the week after seeing a record increase.

“The media got flooded with all those reports of British people being suddenly awful to Europeans, I felt really lost and panicked. Not so much for myself, as for my family”, says Paweł Stachyra, a Polish resident of Britain for 12 years.

Jaeck Bernasinski, another Polish resident and member of the Polish ex-combatant association of Great Britain, has first hand experience of this worrying trend, “Just before Brexit in the neighbourhood a woman was saying, ‘get all the Poles out of England’.” He recalls how, “My Neighbourhood of Hammersmith was one of the first afflicted”.

A large proportion of these hate-crimes are directed against the Polish community, as the largest eastern European community in the UK. UK Poles have been the targets of verbal abuse, property damage and in a particularly shocking incident this August, Polish resident Arkadiusz Jόźwik died, after being assaulted by five boys aged 15 and 16 in Essex.
For some Poles, especially older residents, this trend seems like a slap in the face around this remembrance period.

“The younger generation are totally unaware of the Polish contribution, my father was in the Polish airforce during the Second World War”, says Jaeck. Yet last week, the 15th September saw the 76th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, in which 147 Polish pilots shot down 201 German aircraft in defense of Britain. The Polish 303rd squadron alone had the highest hit rate of any allied squadron.

Jaeck suggests that if young people were taught of these important contributions and the shared history of Poland and the UK, “it could have a big affect on the treatment of Polish communities.”

Paula Kitching of the UK Historical Association agrees, “It’s a shame, because actually Polish history has a very strong vain, a core element of UK History. Would it be helpful if more teachers talked about it? Without a doubt.”

However she says that while there is no intent to exclude the contribution of Polish people, “with the limits of time, they [teachers] don’t focus on it as much as we’d like them to.”

The UK history curriculum states that students should learn “the Second World War and the wartime leadership of Winston Churchill.” However, despite time pressures on teachers, Kitching suggests “recent events might flag this problem up and make teachers want to take the time to do it more.”

While instilling at an early age a deeper knowledge of the Polish contribution to famous victories, and ultimately winning the war, could help to calm some of the post-Brexit hate-mongering, the decision remains for the moment in the hands of the teacher – but perhaps it is worth the effort. As Ms Kitching states, “European history and British history are one and the same, but somehow this message has got lost.”

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