Collective Memory and
Contemporary Polish-Jewish Relations
It is a commonplace that Poles and Jews have had a difficult relationship historically and today hold negative views about each other. Like many generalizations, this does not apply to all members of each group, and whether the two groups are unfavorably disposed toward each other today should be empirically testable. Groups in contact often hold definite views about each other, but the views of contemporary Jews and Poles are formed largely in the absence of the other. The great majority of Jews alive today have not encountered Poles in their homeland, and few Poles living in Poland have ever met or seen a living Jew. Nevertheless, it turns out that when compared to Americans or even to many other nations in east central Europe and the former Soviet Union, Poles do indeed have negative feelings about Jews. Curiously, there is no empirical evidence, though much of the anecdotal sort, of Jews’ attitudes toward Poles. We do not seem to have much hard evidence about contemporary Jews’ attitudes toward their neighbors wherever they live nor about the image of Poles held by Israeli Jews and those in the large Diaspora communities. This chapter attempts to describe how ordinary Poles feel about Jews and explain the sources of those feelings, as well as to probe the sources of American Jews’ impressions of Poles.
Prejudice, whether positive or negative, is a feeling, about another person or group, that is held prior to an actual experience with that person; or, if there has been such an experience, the feeling is not based on it. Poles and Jews have had little direct contact with each other in the past half-century and more, so their attitudes toward each other are not based on actual experience with the other. Yet, they do seem to have prejudicial views about each other. It is relatively easy