Translating Lessons Learned from the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance to Creating a New Generation of Polish Heroes
Philip Zimbardo is considered “the voice and face of modern psychology”. He is one of today’s most famous psychologists, known for his “Discovering Psychology” series, numerous books, and what has come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Prof. Zimbardo’s recent interests focus on the field of experimental social psychology. At the moment, his passion is the Heroic Imagination Project, which researches the psychology of everyday heroism. During the lecture, which Prof. Zimbardo has prepared especially for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, this issue will be examined on the example of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
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Abstract of the lecture by prof. Zimbardo:
“My presentation will be organized in three acts.
Act one, will focus a bit on the history of the relationship between Poland and United States of America starting from our revolutionary war against the British in 1776, where two Polish generals, Pulaski and Kosciuszko, became heroes --that I actually studied as a school child in my history class. Since then, America and Poland have had a vibrant relationship with now more than 10 million Polish Americans living throughout our nation and making wonderful contributions in education, science, culture, politics, and business. America continues to be one of Poland's most vital allies, and our country continues to support your democracy that has proudly emerged out of years of suffering under the joint horrors of Nazi Fascism and Stalin's Communism.
In act two, I will explore the psychology of evil in a variety of ways. I focus not only on the evil in people, dispositional evil, but also the persistent and powerful evil of situations that are created by evil systems. We will of course, focus on the most monstrous evil of all time-- the Holocaust-- especially as experienced by Polish Jews. We ask the question how could that be possible? How can ordinary people reflect the “banality of evil”? We look not only at the Nazi killing machine but also at the ordinary citizens in Poland, and everywhere in Europe, who were in some way in complicity. But then I am forced to present something about the dark side in America where for 100 years Blacks, Negroes, were routinely lynched or burned alive by white citizens for allegedly committing crimes against white women. How was that possible? As an experimental social psychologist I will then lead us into two research laboratories at Yale University and at Stanford University when we tried to understand evil by actually creating it in different ways.
Finally, in act three we search for what is best in human nature to discover how people can act heroically in the face of challenges of all kinds. Here we will go back to consider some of the lessons learned from the brave young men and women who resisted and rebelled against Nazi domination in the Warsaw ghetto 70 years ago. But then I will present new views of what it means to be an everyday hero and how we can train people to develop the moral courage and compassion that will enable them to stand up, speak out, and take heroic action against injustice, immorality, corruption, fraud, bullying, and all forms of evil. My hope is to be able to bring the lessons of my new heroic imagination project to Poland to be integrated into its schools and into its youth community centers.”