Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland

Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland

Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland

Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland

Synopsis

In a time of national introspection regarding the country's involvement in the persecution of Jews, Poland has begun to reimagine spaces of and for Jewishness in the Polish landscape, not as a form of nostalgia but as a way to encourage the pluralization of contemporary society. The essays in this book explore issues of the restoration, restitution, memorializing, and tourism that have brought present inhabitants into contact with initiatives to revive Jewish sites. They reveal that an emergent Jewish presence in both urban and rural landscapes exists in conflict and collaboration with other remembered minorities, engaging in complex negotiations with local, regional, national, and international groups and interests. With its emphasis on spaces and built environments, this volume illuminates the role of the material world in the complex encounter with the Jewish past in contemporary Poland.

Excerpt

Erica Lehrer and Michael Meng

Among outside observers of Polish- Jewish relations, two divergent images of Poland coexist, each with its own set of powerful emotions. the first is more familiar to North American readers: Poland as an historically blighted land of pogroms, antisemitism, Jewish exclusion, persecution, and murder, and today a place of historical denial by Poles and lingering fear and hostility for Jews, set against a backdrop of silent Jewish ruins, debased and left to crumble. But another image of Poland is emerging among a new generation of close observers. This Poland opposes antisemitism, is embroiled in a process of earnest introspection regarding the involvement of Poles in the historical persecution of Jews, and, most saliently for the present volume, is dedicated to reenvisioning spaces of and for Jewishness, past and present, in the Polish landscape—physical, social, and discursive.

Claude Lanzmann’s epic 1983 film Shoah seared the image of Poland as a landscape of Jewish death and denial into a generation of viewers, with images of Polish peasant eyewitnesses expressing unreconstructed antisemitic myths and nervously snickering as they talked about the murder of their former Jewish neighbors and the confiscation of those Jews’ property. the film suggests that any habitable physical and social “Jewish space” in Poland was permanently obliterated along with the country’s Jewish population. But a pair of new films—Yael Bartana’s And Europe Will Be Stunned and Władysław Pasikowski’s Pokłosie (Aftermath)— powerfully evoke spaces of not only past and present but also future Jewishness, in ways that suggest the advent of a new historical moment. While not nearly as widely viewed—and employing a fictional approach as opposed to using the documentary genre—these films reflect significant present- day social realities: both the inchoate yearnings of and the actual grassroots efforts by non- Jewish Poles and Jews in and beyond Poland to reclaim and expand Poland’s Jewish spaces.

Pasikowski’s 2012 Polish- made film Pokłosie is an allegorical treatment of sociologist- historian Jan Gross’s powerful book Neighbors, which laid bare the “public secret” that a community of Poles in 1941 had driven their Jewish neighbors into a barn and burned it down. the filmic treatment follows the presentday moral awakening of a young Polish villager who feels an inexplicable pull to collect and reassemble the fragments of his local Jewish cemetery. in his scavenger hunt for the missing tombstones—an endeavor replicated in many Jew-

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