The Impact of the Shoah on
the Thinking of Contemporary
A PERSONAL ACCOUNT
Postwar Poland is, roughly, my time and my place. I did not choose the place and time of birth—Who did?—but it is my place, with its good and bad features. I have actively participated in Jewish life since 1989 and to some extent in the previous decade. Before starting my journey to Jewish involvement in the 1970s, when I was in my twenties, I had belonged to the category of completely assimilated, non-Jewish Jews. This category is crucial for any attempt to understand the postwar Polish-Jewish condition.
In the following pages, I shall consider the impact of the Shoah, an impossible task. In one word—overwhelming. And this is for two reasons: the obvious Jewish one, and the less well understood Polish one. When I was young, memory of the war was a dominant theme in Polish society. For decades films and most works of fiction were about the war. In contemporary Poland, one need only say “the war” to refer to World War II. And for Polish Jews of all categories, the war has been even more of a watershed. We have been living in the shadow of the Shoah, which has had direct consequences (devastation, a dramatic decline in Jewish numbers, changes in the ownership of property) and indirect ones (whereby, for example, its memory could easily lead to an approval of Communism). Its most lasting psychological consequence is the fear of oppression and murder transmitted unwillingly to subsequent generations. That fear has contributed more than anything else to the hiding of one's Jewish roots in postwar Poland. Another long-term effect of the Shoah is how foreigners have viewed Polish Jewry: for foreign Jews, Poland has become a huge Jewish