Monday, May 14, 2012

More on Oswiecim Life Festival

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I was very glad to have gone to Oswiecim for the Oswiecim Life Festival, even though I missed the big final stadium concert Sunday night with Peter Gabriel as headliner -- it apparently was Gabriel's only appearance (perhaps first apperance?) in Poland, and I even saw the concert advertised on a city bus in Warsaw. Tickets were pricey, and there was a press center set up in the International Youth Meeting Center, next to the stadium.

I stayed at the Center -- run by a German foundation, it hosts groups on study tours to Auschwitiz and organizes programs on tolerance and dialogue. (When I went in for breakfast, two tables occupied by burly young men were designated "Hamburg Polizei.) The Center has been around since 1986, and I wrote about it in my 1994 book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House, whose final chapter is a day to day description of my being snowbound in Oswiecim for nearly 4 days, and a reflection on how the shadow of the Auschwitz camp looms over the city.

Saturday afternoon, the Center hosted an intense -- and hours-long -- panel discussion on hate speech in the Polish internet scene and what can be done to combat it. Tomek Kuncewicz of the Auschwitz Jewish Center told me that he would like to see future editions of the Life Festival include more workshops and other events like this.

Outside the theatre. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Besides concerts and a theatre performance, the Festival also sponsored public art projects -- a big mural, as well as other murals painted on walls around town that featured Polish and other figures of moral authority (Pope John Paul II, Vaclav Havel, Jacek Kuron, etc) with quotations from them about civil rights, tolerance, etc etc.

The one of the pope -- painted near the market square just opposite the city's main church -- specifically addressed anti-Semitism.

"Anti-Semitism is a Sin against God and Humanity"  Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

At the Life Festival, I did go to the free concert Saturday night in the Rynek, or town square -- a space that is slated for redevelopment this summer.

The concert began in cold rain -- only a handful of people braved the weather to hear the Israeli  Schahar Gilad band.  I went for dinner with friends and then came back for the final set -- a terrific performance by a legenday Polish blues rock band called Dzem, which has been around for 25 years or so..... The weather had cleared and the square was packed.

We stood at the very back of the crowd, on the edge of the square -- it was worth it just two watch this dude get into the music:

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