When I was a little girl, I sat on the floor, old photographs scattered in front of me. I listened to my mother’s voice which was so familiar to me, and tried to understand her words. To understand their meaning. I listened to her and understood nothing of this time too well known by my mother. Now we’re sitting on German ground but the photographs were taken on Polish soil. In a time of socialism, of famine, of poverty wage, of life- and health-threatening working conditions, of food stamps, of a government that only had empty words and empty plates to offer to its inmates, of a government that isolated its country, convinced to protect it against anything foreign. She reminisces about her parents that worked day and night shifts rotatory in a shoe factory and a mine – their kids in school. Neither playing nor homework, since after duties come the real duties. Line up in front of a grocery store, to take over their mother’s place after her night shift, then again getting relieved by their father after his day shift, only to receive nothing more than butter and flour. Standing in the cold, longing for warm bread.

I could sense her frustration, her anger, her incomprehension and her powerlessness. Her escape with a man almost unknown to her who she learned to love in this short time. She – German papers and a place at a refugee camp, he – undocumented and with an illegally purchased holiday permit. Both were 23 and had 50 Deutsche Mark each, tickets to West Berlin and the mere hope for a better life. The mere hope for prospects. More remarks about prejudices, of the difficulties to find employment as a simple cleaner. The difficulties to find trust. Of prosperity right under one’s nose while pressing their noses against stuffed shop windows, their mouths watering, narrated so vividly that I feel my own mouth water. But no, no money for these unknown German delicacies. But her stomach, she says, was filled with hope. Filled with hope for a better life, for her and my sister inside her.

Burned deep into the narrator’s memory, as it is now in the audience’s mind. My parents with their tough past – my parents, the refugees – now – against refugees. How? How is this even possible? Back then they used to be the oppressed, now they are the oppressors.

In Poland they had learned to hate the severe ideology – now they learn to love it.

Why should refugees have it easier than they used to have it? Why don’t they need to prove themselves before they are allowed to stay? Why don’t they have to endure as much as they had to? How much anger, hate and frustration must linger in my parents to allow for this sense of justice? But all these are just attempts to find an explanation for the understanding of the incomprehension.

I realize how the little girl’s perception of her mother is changing. The admiration for her courage to seek a better life turns into rage, disbelief, reluctance and impotence. How can a person describe others as economic refugees when she has been one herself? When a fled person wants to defend one’s “own” against foreign influence, even if this “own” has never been her own before? When there is no “own”! When xenophobia becomes normal even though they are foreign themselves? When they support and celebrate closed-door policy although they once fled said policy?

Then I hope for all these people, every single one of them, when they finally understand, that they will be able to look at themselves without pure self-loathing! That my mother will be able to face herself in the mirror. I hope for these people that they will get rid of the hate in their hearts and replace it with compassion.

I really hope that their shame will not be too much to take and they will not deliberately throw up on themselves! How are they not able to recognize the mirror in front of them? Or how do they not want to recognize it.

Understanding for incomprehension, tolerance for intolerance are at this point in these current times not possible anymore.

Scarlett Rybarczyk

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