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Holocaust Memory in Polish Scholarship

  • Karen Auerbach (a1)

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Commemoration of the Holocaust, scholar Halina Taborska recently argued, has entered a new stage in Poland. For more than a decade after communist rule ended in 1989, politicized slogans remained on many Holocaust memorials and other forms of commemoration, remnants of the period “when politicians and ideologues, the ruling powers and the ruled, artists and administrators accepted a definitive version of events as true and obligatory,” she wrote in a collection of articles. Only in recent years has Holocaust commemoration sought to grapple with the “falsified semantic expressions” of Holocaust memory and to depoliticize commemoration in the public sphere.

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1. Halina Taborska, “Obszary Zagłady” [Regions of Annihilation], in Majewski and Ziedler-Janiszewska, Pamięç Shoah, 19.

2. Gross, Jan, Sąsiedzi. Historia zagłady żydowskiego miasteczka (Sejny: Pogranicze, 2000). Published in English as Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

3. Gross, Jan, Fear: Antisemitism in Poland after Auschwitz. An Essay in Historical Interpretation (New York: Random House, 2006); Cichopek, Anna, “The Cracow Pogrom of August 1945: A Narrative Reconstruction,” in Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, ed. Zimmerman, Joshua (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 221–38.

4. Grabowski, Jan, “Rewriting the History of Polish-Jewish Relations from a Nationalist Perspective: The Recent Publications of the Institute of National Remembrance,” Yad Vashem Studies 36, no. 1 (2008): 268. Grabowski notes that the article by Bożena Szaynok, a respected expert on the Kielce pogrom, is an exception to the nationalist perspective of the other articles in the Institute of National Remembrance volume. See Kamiński, Łukasz and Żaryn, Jan, eds., Reflections on the Kielce Pogrom (Warsaw: Institute of National Remembrance, 2006).

5. Engelking-Boni, Barbara, Holocaust and Memory: The Experience of the Holocaust and Its Consequences. An Investigation Based on Personal Narratives, ed. Paulsson, Gunnar S. (London and New York: Leicester University Press, 2001).

6. Steinlauf, Michael C., Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997); Pamięć nieprzyswojona. Polska pamięc Zagłady [Unassimilated Knowledge: Polish Memory of the Holocaust], trans. Tomaszewska, Agata (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Cyklady, 2001).

7. Several Polish scholars have subsequently taken up study of connections between Holocaust memory and identity among Jews who remained in postwar Poland, which was also the focus in part of Engelking-Boni's Holocaust and Memory. The sociologist Malgorzata Melchior, for example, focuses on the role of the Jewish past and Holocaust survival among Jews who survived on the “Aryan side.” More recently, Joanna Wiszniewicz's eloquent book of oral histories from the generation of Holocaust survivors’ children in postwar Poland centered around the anti-Jewish campaign in Poland in 1968 and the subsequent Jewish emigration wave, addressing the complications of survivors’ wartime memory as experienced by their children. See Melchior, Malgorzata, Zagłada a Tożsamośç: Polscy Żydzi ocaleni “na aryjskich papierach. Analiza doświadczenia biograficznego [Holocaust and Identity: Polish Jews Who Survived with Aryan Papers. An Analysis of Biographical Experience] (Warsaw: IFiS PAN, 2004); and Wiszniewicz, Joanna, Życie przecięte. Opowieści pokolenia Marca [Life Cut in Two: Stories of the March Generation] (Sękowa: Czarne, 2008).

8. Young, James E., The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).

9. Taborska, “Obszary Zagłady,” 19.

10. See, for example, Pawel Spodenkiewicz, “Chaim Rumkowski jako mowca” [Chaim Rumkowski as a Speaker], 121–32, and Monika Polit, “Elementy języka propagandy w Kronice getta łodzkiego” [Elements of the Language of Propaganda in the Chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto], in Majewski and Zeidler-Janiszewska, Pamięc Shoah, 133–47.

11. For example, Henryk Grynberg, “Holocaust jako nowe doświadczenie literackie” [The Holocaust as a New Literary Experience], in Majewski and Zeidler-Janiszewska, Pamięc Shoah, 741–52; and Father Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel, “Żydzi-Chrześcijanie: dwie pamięci” [Jews-Christians: Two Memories], in Majewski and Zeidler-Janiszewska, Pamięc Shoah, 555–67. Grynberg is a Polish Jewish writer who survived the Holocaust as a child and defected to the United States in 1967. Weksler-Waszkinel is a scholar and a Catholic priest who was born Jewish in 1943 and raised by a Christian family.

12. Tomasz Majewski, “Litzmannstadt Ghetto,” in Majewski and Zeidler-Janiszewska, Pamięc Shoah, 117–18.

13. Woycicka, Przerwana Żałoba, 20.

14. Young, The Texture of Memory.

15. Diner, Hasia, We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 2009); Diner, Hasia, “Post-World-War-II American Jewry and the Confrontation with Catastrophe,” American Jewish History 91, nos. 3–4 (2003): 439–67.

16. Moyn, Samuel, A Holocaust Controversy: The Treblinka Affair in Postwar France (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press; Hanover: University Press of New England, 2005).

17. Huener, Jonathan, Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration, 1945–1979 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003).

18. Although there was no concentration camp attached to these death camps, as there were at Auschwitz and Majdanek, there were small work camps where prisoners mainly produced materials to keep the annihilation camp “operating,” such as repairing shoes and clothes for guards and other officials. Thus “Treblinka II” in Rusiniak's title refers to the annihilation camp, while Treblinka I was the work camp.

19. See Engel, David, In the Shadow of Auschwitz: The Polish Government-in-Exile and the Jews, 1939–1942 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987).

20. The term is from Fein, Helen, Accounting for Genocide: National Responses and Jewish Victimization during the Holocaust (New York: The Free Press, 1979).

21. Rusiniak, Obóz Zagłady Treblinka II w Pamięci Społecznej, 8.

22. For a more detailed study of the main group of former political prisoners of the Nazi camps in postwar Poland and its role in shaping commemoration at the former camps, see Wawrzyniak, Joanna, ZBoWiD i pamięç drugiej wojny światowej, 1949–1969 [ZBoWiD and memory of the Second World War, 1949–1969] (Warsaw: Trio, 2009). [ZBoWiD stands for Zwizek Bojowników o Wolność i Demokracjȩ (Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy).]

23. Leociak, Jacek, Text in the Face of Destruction: Accounts from the Warsaw Ghetto Reconsidered, trans. Harris, Emma (Warsaw: Jewish Historical Institute, 2004), introduction.

24. Taborska, “Obszary Zagłady,” 19.

Holocaust Memory in Polish Scholarship

  • Karen Auerbach (a1)

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