Opposite the collection point

Posted on April 20, 2009


This semester I am teaching Philosophy of Science to students who are doing psychology in English at Warsaw University. This has meant that I have been lecturing within the building in which the Psychology Department is located. Indeed, as I write this I am seated in the office I use within this building.  Significantly,  the building has a history that makes me think about the work on essentialist thinking that Bruce Hood has been doing. During World War II it housed the headquarters of the Gestapo for the Warsaw Ghetto. Umschlagplatz, from which hundreds of thousands of Jews were taken to Treblinka, is just across the street. There is no counting the horrors that the walls of this building must have witnessed. Very often while inside the building I imagine people being dragged down the very same corridors in which I now pass laughing students.  Surely, if any building could be thought to be cursed by its history or, perhaps, made sacred by the suffering  people underwent within it, this would be one. Of course, it is impossible to think about this the whole time but, when I forget and concentrate on what I am teaching, I find that remembering again is painful, startling and brings a feeling of shame that even for a moment I was not conscious of what had happened here. My rational awareness that the place can not be considered to hold the experiences of the past in anything but a metaphorical way and that no buildings are either cursed or sacred, doesn’t even touch the profound discomfort I feel while here. Indeed, were it not for my understanding of my feelings I might question my views about the substantiality of evil. On his blog Bruce wrote once about a house in whose cellar a body of a Roman soldier was said to have been found. Many people found the idea of living in that house unpleasant but I thought it a bonus – an interesting story one could tell about where one lived. The scale of what had happened here, however, renders any rational response inadequate. In this building, I just feel a quiet horror.

Posted in: Psychology