Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 18
The Impact of the Holocaust
on Jewish Attitudes
in Postwar Poland
BOŻENA SZAYNOK

Any description of the Jewish community in postwar Poland must begin with two figures. Before World War II, there were about 3.5 million Jews in Poland. In July 1946, at the postwar population peak, the Jewish population of Poland numbered approximately 250,000. These figures most profoundly illustrate the tragedy that befell Polish Jews during the Shoah. The Jews who managed to survive required not only financial aid but, due to their traumatic war experiences, psychological support as well. Researching the Jewish community in the years 1947–1949, Irena Nowakowska recorded the following observations about Polish-Jewish survivors: “They were people who either came out of hiding and, after years of living illegally, could declare their Jewishness, or people with horrible experiences in ghettos or concentration camps, or repatriates from the Soviet Union. It was a crowd moving around, unsettled, and scared. These people were not coming back to their homes or families because these no longer existed. It was a group that had survived a cataclysm.” 1

Many Jewish survivors emerged after the war in bad physical condition. In a 1945 article in the Jewish newspaper Dos naye leben, the following description is given of the Jewish community in Poland: “Most of the Jews saved from the Destruction were not able to work. Medical examination showed that a third of the survivors had TB and required long and intensive treatment.” 2

It is also important to take into account the Holocaust survivors’ psychological stress. The horrible experience left them with a sense of being wronged and abandoned. Post-traumatic stress syndrome was present with its characteristic features. As the young Polish sociologist Barbara Engelking has written,

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