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The Ethics of Witnessing

The Holocaust in Polish Writers' Diaries from Warsaw, 1939-1945

Rachel Feldhay Brenner

Publication Year: 2014

The Ethics of Witnessing investigates the reactions of five important Polish diaristswriters—Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Maria Dąbrowska, Aurelia Wyleżyńska, ZofiaNałkowska, and Stanisław Rembek—during the period when the Nazis persecuted and murdered Warsaw’s Jewish population. The responses to the Holocaust of these prominent prewar authors extended from insistence on empathic interaction with victims to resentful detachment from Jewish suffering. Whereas some defied the dehumanization of the Jews and endeavored to maintain intersubjective relationships with the victims they attempted to rescue, others selfdeceptively evaded the Jewish plight. The Ethics of Witnessing examines the extent to which ideologies of humanism and nationalism informed the diarists’ perceptions, proposing that the reality of the Final Solution exposed the limits of both orientations and ultimately destroyed the ethical landscape shaped by the Enlightenment tradition, which promised the equality and fellowship of all human beings.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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Tilte Page, Series, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-2

On this page, which marks the completion of this book, I wish to express my gratitude for the good fortune to have had the exceptional support and confi dence of friends, scholars, and institutions throughout the long process of writing. First, I would like to thank the University of Wisconsin- Madison and the College of Letters and Science, whose generous support has aided my research for many years. My tenure as a senior scholar at the Institute for Research in the Humanities under...

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Chapter 1. The Holocaust and the Problem of Empathy: Polish Christian Diarists Look at the Ghetto

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pp. 3-24

Looking at the burning Ghetto in April 1943, the prominent Polish writer Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz noted in his diary, with horror and despair, that

there die artists such as Roman Kramsztyk, such close, old friends as Olek Landau, parents of friends such as Pawełek Hertz, Józik Rajnfeld, and we can do nothing. We helplessly watch the dark ...

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Chapter 2. Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz: The Holocaust and the Struggle for Humanism

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pp. 25-44

The conduct of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1894–1980) toward the victims of the German Occupation was beyond reproach. The State of Israel and Yad Vashem posthumously awarded Anna and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1987. The award citation states that the couple hid Jews on their Stawisko estate, helped others find hiding places, and returned money paid for an unrealized...

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Chapter 3. Maria Dąbrowska: Witnessing the Holocaust Through the Ideological Lens of Nationalism

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pp. 45-70

Like Iwaszkiewicz, the reaction of Maria Dąbrowska (1889–1965) to the Holocaust was shaped by a deeply embedded ideological world picture. Iwaszkiewicz’s early dissociation from the prevailing national romantic ethos of Polish uncommon military valor and heroic patriotism determined his humanistic- cosmopolitan ideology of tolerance and inclusion in the Enlightenment tradition of human fellowship. While he...

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Chapter 4. Aurelia Wyleżyńska: Rethinking Art and Ethics in the Reality of the Holocaust

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pp. 71-100

The wartime diary of Aurelia Wyleżyńska (1881–1944), scarcely mentioned in Polish research of the Holocaust,1 is practically unknown to the general public.Wyleżyńska was a well-known literary figure in the prewar and wartime Warsaw intellectual milieu. Yet, of all the Warsaw war diaries discussed in this book, only Wyleżyńska’s diary remains unpublished. This author of numerous prizewinning novels and biographies,...

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Chapter 5. Zofia Nałkowska: The Silence and Speech of the Humanist Witness of the Holocaust

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pp. 101-132

Thus wrote Zofi a Nałkowska (1884–1954), a prominent Polish writer, in her diary, on May 14, 1943, when the Warsaw Ghetto was burning.1 Nałkowska’s intense identifi cation with the Jewish plight and her pain over the world’s moral collapse refl ected the humanistic, progressive Weltanschauung she absorbed in her parental home. She was born to Wacław Nałkowski, a distinguished geographer and idealistic lifelong advocate of social justice, and his wife, Anna, née Safranek, who shared...

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Chapter 6. Stanisław Rembek: The Christian Witness of the Holocaust and the End of Polish Messianic Destiny

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pp. 133-166

The altering perceptions of the Jews in the oeuvre of Stanisław Rembek (1901–1985) are puzzling. As Aleksander Kaczorowski has remarked,

Is it inconceivable that the same man who wrote the profoundly moving descriptions of the Jews in his fi ction was capable of such a degree of indifference in his ...

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Epilogue: To Witness the Experience of Witnessing

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pp. 167-170

The preoccupation with the Holocaust has not abated. The publication of Saul Friedlander’s seminal 1996 volume, Probing the Limits of Representation, which examined both scholarly and artistic interest in the Holocaust since the 1970s, did not by any means constitute a conclusive appraisal of the phenomenon.1 Despite Lyotard’s warning that “no one can—by writing, by painting, by anything—pretend to be witness ...


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pp. 171-184


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pp. 185-192


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pp. 193-198

E-ISBN-13: 9780810167636
E-ISBN-10: 0810167638
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810129757
Print-ISBN-10: 0810129752

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 212
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 887183549
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Ethics of Witnessing

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Poland -- Warsaw -- Personal narratives -- History and criticism.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in literature.
  • Authors, Polish -- 20th century -- Diaries.
  • Warsaw (Poland) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Dąbrowska, Maria, 1889-1965 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Iwaszkiewicz, Jarosław, 1894-1980 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Wyleżyńska, Aura -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Nałkowska, Zofia, 1884-1954 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Rembek, Stanisław -- Criticism and interpretation.
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