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The Holocaust Object in Polish and Polish-Jewish Culture

Bożena Shallcross

Publication Year: 2011

In stark contrast to the widespread preoccupation with the wartime looting of priceless works of art, Bożena Shallcross focuses on the meaning of ordinary objects -- pots, eyeglasses, shoes, clothing, kitchen utensils -- tangible vestiges of a once-lived reality, which she reads here as cultural texts. Shallcross delineates the ways in which Holocaust objects are represented in Polish and Polish-Jewish texts written during or shortly after World War II. These representational strategies are distilled from the writings of Zuzanna Ginczanka, Władysław Szlengel, Zofia Nałkowska, Czesław Miłosz, Jerzy Andrzejewski, and Tadeusz Borowski. Combining close readings of selected texts with critical interrogations of a wide range of philosophical and theoretical approaches to the nature of matter, Shallcross's study broadens the current discourse on the Holocaust by embracing humble and overlooked material objects as they were perceived by writers of that time.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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The Totalized Object: An Introduction

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pp. 1-14

The Holocaust Object as Text We associate the Holocaust with human tragedy. Hence, mounds of objects, looted from their murdered owners, seem much less important, their tales ignored. Over the course of time, however, the physical remains of human victims— their jewelry, shoes, clothes, and even their hair—have become the Holocaust’s dominant metonymy...

On jouissance

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1. A Dandy and Jewish Detritus

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pp. 17-35

The Nazi war economy sustained itself not only through production, exploitation, or looting, but also through substitution and replacement, which took the form of a whole range of ersatz products, cheap fakes, and impermanent copies. For example, an inferior food product made from sugar beets replaced marmalade and its proverbially bad taste was long remembered after ...

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2. The Material Letter J

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pp. 36-52

The semantic of property denotes both a character feature and material goods. In either case, property is something that belongs to and defines a subject or an object. In close relationship to it is propriety, which defines a more specific character trait such as decency as well as ownership, and generally refers to the human world. Thus, the meanings of property and propriety overlap...

On Waste and Matter

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3. Holocaust Soap and the Story of Its Production

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pp. 55-70

Soap’s telos is to purify, to clean and then to disappear completely. Its semantics should be in conflict with its impure origins, in the same manner as its cleansing effect clashes with dirty hands. Contrary to Francis Ponge’s assessment in the inscription, which is concerned with soap’s phenomenological “whatness,” consumers have only a vague idea of the contents of the cosmetic (including its main ingredient, animal fat) or the chemical process required...

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4. The Guilty Afterlife of the Soma

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pp. 71-92

One of the particularly intensive periods of hermeneutic and artistic preoccupation with apocalypticism, intermingled with forebodings of the looming historical catastrophe, occurred in the 1930s, when diverse forms of cultural and historical pessimism came to the fore across various disciplines. In 1930, D. H. Lawrence wrote his last book, Apocalypse (published posthumously in 1931),...

On Contact

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5. The Manuscript Lost in Warsaw

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pp. 95-111

It has become a cultural ritual of sorts that prominent artists give or sell their archives, sometimes their only asset, to libraries and other institutions to make sure that their legacy exists in the public domain instead of as a burden to relatives. This gesture sacrifices the intimacy of connection that one devel-ops with his own artistic oeuvre and its material, tangible form;...

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6. Things, Touch, and Detachment in Auschwitz

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pp. 112-128

The image of a homeless man carrying his earthly belongings in a bundle is a common feature of our urban experience. No one pays much attention to the fact that such bundles consist of damaged items that can no longer be put to use. If broken objects are not given to consumption, if their Heideggerian equipmentality is denied, what sort of connection still makes them essential for their owners?...

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Coda: The Post-Holocaust Object

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pp. 129-136

By and large, the material world of the Holocaust lay in ruins when it was first encountered by the liberating forces of the Allies and the Red Army. Looting of the camps' infrastructure, incited by legends that spread about apparent riches buried in the grounds, led to further destruction which was facilitated by the inferior quality of construction materials used to build barracks ...

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Acknowledgments and Permissions

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pp. 137-138

My heartfelt thanks go to Professor Harriet Murav for giving me an opportunity, in 2004, to present my then fledgling project to an inquisitive audience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I extend my gratitude to my colleagues Beth Holmgren, Madeline G. Levine, Agata Bielik Robson, and Ryszard Nycz, whose opinions I greatly value and whose ...


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pp. 139-162


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pp. 163-174


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pp. 175-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780253005090
E-ISBN-10: 0253005094
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355645

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 707918260
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Holocaust Object in Polish and Polish-Jewish Culture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Polish literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Polish literature -- Jewish authors -- History and criticism.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in literature.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Poland.
  • Reality in literature.
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