Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland: A Beleaguered Church in the Post-Reformation Era

Article excerpt

Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland: A Beleaguered Church in the Post-Reformation Era. By Magda Teter. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp. xxxvi, 272. $ 65.00.)

Scintillating her audience, Dr.Teter begins with her own life experiences in Poland and the history of her Jewish people and other "heretics" in post-Reformation Poland. Pages of murals, drawings, and sketches spill out at the very beginning to entice the reader to discover what secrets Polish history holds for the Jews and other "heretics." Also in the beginning is an excellent, helpful map of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which readers famliar with Eastern Europe will appreciate. Teter's dramatic, illustrative start includes the murals from the Cathedral of Sandomierz, her hometown. These include various scenes of torture and murder of Catholics by not only Jews, but Tartars, Swedish Lutherans, other Protestants, "Schismatics (Eastern Orthodox)," "Pagans," and "bad and disobedient Catholics." She also includes a portrait from a 1737 work which discusses the execution of a Polish woman for conversion to Judaism in Krakow in 1539. Sources forTeter included numerous archives in Krakow, Rome, and the Vatican. (Some archives remain closed, including that of the Sandomierz Cathedral.)

Her interest in illustrations fascinated me since she acknowledges not having found large numbers of anti-Jewish texts. I have found that visual images and oral traditions often precede, exist simultaneously with, and continue long after certain texts are popular. Images and oral history also reach a larger audience. My peasant ancestors, from the diocese of Tarnów, were illiterate for centuries but learned of Jews and others in non-written ways. The ancestors I knew were not anti-Semitic, but they were extremely pro-Church. This is one of Teter's themes, that the Jews were only one of only many groups that concerned the Roman Catholic Church. In my opinion, throughout most of history, people in political power have viewed religion as an essential unifying force, and therefore, usuaËy, have seen a need for a state religion. …