German Muslim schoolgirls who went on a visit to Holocaust memorials in eastern Poland say they were racially abused by locals during their trip.
The girls, from a Berlin school, spoke on Deutschlandfunk radio about their experience. Four were wearing Muslim headscarves – and they suffered abuse.
One girl said a man had spat on her in the street in Lublin, as police stood by grinning and did nothing.
Another girl said she was expelled from a shop for speaking Persian.
She had been speaking to her brother on the phone.
“They came up to me and said ‘can you leave, you’re disturbing the people here’. And I thought: Why? Just because I’m speaking Persian and I’m a foreigner? Yes,” she told the radio station.
Spitting and knives
A third girl said that in Lodz “a woman just came up to me and shouted ‘get out!’ and threw her drink over me and my camera – she said ‘get lost!'”
In Lublin, the girls said that a market stallholder had refused to sell them water because they were foreigners. On another occasion, one girl was reportedly threatened with a knife.
They were among a group of 20 children – mostly Muslims – from the Theodor Heuss Community School in Berlin-Moabit.
The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims because Jewish survivors settled in Palestine, on land which later became the state of Israel.
The Poland trip was arranged by a German Holocaust memorial body, the House of the Wannsee Conference.
Its director Hans-Christian Jasch said: “I’m especially shocked that this happened to youngsters in our care on this trip – indeed, on a trip dedicated to studying this very topic [racism]. Of course that’s particularly sad.” He plans to complain to the Polish embassy in Berlin.
The group visited Majdanek, a camp on the outskirts of Lublin where the Nazi German SS murdered Jews during World War Two.
They also visited Treblinka, site of another Nazi death camp, and the cities of Warsaw and Lodz, whose Jewish communities were slaughtered by the Nazis.
The purpose of the trip was also to find out about the suffering endured by Polish civilians in general under Nazi occupation.
Block on refugees
Poland’s nationalist government refuses to take in Muslim refugees, arguing that they would struggle to integrate in Poland’s Catholic-majority society.
The EU is in dispute with Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary on the issue. They reject an EU decision to relocate 160,000 refugees – many of them Muslim Syrians – currently stuck at reception centres in Italy and Greece.
The leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said in October 2015 that the refugees posed a health hazard. He was speaking shortly before PiS triumphed in a general election.
“Also there are some differences related to geography, various parasites, protozoa that are common and are not dangerous in the bodies of these people, (but) may be dangerous here,” he said.
Defending Poland’s policy, Science and Higher Education Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said “every nation and people has a right to protect itself from extinction”.