Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust

Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust

Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust

Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust

Synopsis

Imaginary Neighborsoffers a unique and significant contribution to the contemporary debate concerning Holocaust memory by exploring the most important current political topic in Poland: Jewish-Polish relations during and after World War II. Drawing on the controversy and attention generated by Jan Gross's landmark book Neighbors, whose description of the brutal Jedwabne massacre reignited the debate over Polish-Jewish relations during the war, this timely volume presents a rich and nuanced examination of the manner in which past and present relations between Poles and Jews are understood in Poland and in the Polish and Jewish diasporas. Rather than revisiting historical details of Jedwabne, this innovative collection uses an interdisciplinary approach to understand the reverberations of the events- and the scholarship that has evolved around them- within the context of the Polish national community. Combining scholarly essays with literary and journalistic accounts,Imaginary Neighborsdemonstrates that the Holocaust memory in Poland, together with the memory of Polish Jews and Jewish culture, continues to be engaged in conflict. What emerges is a passionate conversation among cultural critics, philosophers, literary theorists, historians, theologians, and writers on the vexing issues of responsibility, forgiveness, reconciliation, and national and religious identity.

Excerpt

Dorota Glowacka and Joanna Zylinska

In Anna Bikont’s book My z Jedwabnego (Us from Jedwabne, 2004), an ethnographic-testimonial work on past and present Polish-Jewish relations, we are introduced to one of her interlocutors, Jan Skrodzki, a retired engineer from Gdańsk, whom she describes as “an ordinary Pole.” Carrying a memory of the fact that during World War II his life was saved by a Jew, but also suspicious that his father may have taken part in the pogroms against the Jewish neighbors, he confesses to Bikont, “I feel responsible for Jedwabne, Radziłów, for everything that might yet come to light.” Skrodzki has made a considerable investment trying to determine the extent of his father’s complicity. a well-meaning relative advises him, however, not to waste any money on traveling around Poland to uncover the truth about his father’s possible involvement in the murders but instead to “give money in the intention of his father’s soul and thus earn himself a clean conscience.” This anecdote poignantly illustrates the paradoxes of past and present Polish-Jewish relations. It shows that the (religiously inflected) ethos of neighborly hospitality, responsibility, and courage on which Poles often pride themselves nevertheless remains tainted with hostility, amnesia, and a desire to calculate meticulously all investments, losses, and gains in order to arrive at a “clean slate.”

This is not to deny the fact that for centuries Poland was a land of hospitality to the Jews and that Poles were known to have acted as gracious . . .

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