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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: May 2013

Chapter 1 - Sacred Memory and the Secular World: The Poland Narratives

from War


Jewish Narratives of Poland: An Intimate Ethnography

“What?! You slept with the enemy?” my nice Jewish doctor snapped back, hearing I'd stayed with a Polish Christian family in my dead father's old shtetl. Just a few years earlier, the same thought might have entered my own mind had I entertained such an idea. For me, as for my physician, Poland had been “fixed in my Jewish imagination as the land of unreconstructed anti-Semitism,” to use Eva Hoffman's words (Hoffman 2004, 137). To think differently about Poland and Polish Christians would signify disloyalty of the worst kind: betrayal of the sacred memory of the persecution and suffering of the Jews, a suffering, we have been taught, that extends into thousands of years of the Jewish plight.

Indeed, a few years earlier, on my first pilgrimage to Poland, I felt a terrible unease. On that occasion, I walked the streets of my father's hometown, recoiling from the townsfolk, and reaching out to no one. I recall looking suspiciously at a huddle of old women chatting on a stoop. I took special notice of the old men, some walking on the street, others grouped on a corner, who peered back at me with equal suspicion. Wasn't it anti-Semitism I saw in their glower?

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