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

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Polish-Jewish Relations in the
Writings of Emmanuel Ringelblum
SAMUEL KASSOW

From his student days at Warsaw University until the tragic end of his life in 1944, Emmanuel Ringelblum placed the problem of Polish-Jewish relations at the center of his scholarly interests. This chapter will survey the evolution of Ringelblum's views on Polish-Jewish relations and consider how they changed under the impact of the Holocaust. Certain questions demand particular attention. What insights into Ringelblum's evaluation of Polish-Jewish relations emerge from his prewar scholarship? How did his political views affect his critical judgment? How did he assess PolishJewish relations at various points in the war?

In his prewar writings on Polish-Jewish history, Ringelblum never for a moment forgot the political implications of his scholarly research. Following in the footsteps of his intellectual mentor, Isaac Schiper, Ringelblum tried to counter two starkly different perceptions of Polish-Jewish relations. The first was the myth of Poland as a land of asylum and refuge, distinguished by age-old traditions of liberalism and tolerance. The second was the opposite myth of eternal antisemitism, the notion that Polish-Jewish relations were rooted in a history of unbridgeable antagonism and mutual alienation. The truth, Ringelblum believed was more complicated. Polish-Jewish relations reflected a constant interplay of rivalry and cooperation, religious alienation and close personal ties, economic tension and mutual collaboration. It was the job of the historian to explain this story, undercut long-held prejudices, and thereby build mutual understanding between Jews and Poles. Ringelblum sincerely believed that one reason for Polish-Jewish tension was a lack of mutual knowledge. He was an optimist who was convinced that Poles and Jews could overcome their differences and that historians could help bring the two peoples closer together. When World War II began, amidst a brief interlude of Polish-Jewish cooperation, Ringelblum began

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