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Imaginary Neighbors

Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust

Dorota Glowacka

Publication Year: 2007

Imaginary Neighbors offers a unique and significant contribution to the contemporary debate concerning Holocaust memory by exploring the most important current political topic in Poland: Jewish-Polish relations during and after World War II. Drawing on the controversy and attention generated by Jan Gross’s landmark book Neighbors, whose description of the brutal Jedwabne massacre reignited the debate over Polish-Jewish relations during the war, this timely volume presents a rich and nuanced examination of the manner in which past and present relations between Poles and Jews are understood in Poland and in the Polish and Jewish diasporas.
Rather than revisiting historical details of Jedwabne, this innovative collection uses an interdisciplinary approach to understand the reverberations of the events—and the scholarship that has evolved around them—within the context of the Polish national community. Combining scholarly essays with literary and journalistic accounts, Imaginary Neighbors demonstrates that the Holocaust memory in Poland, together with the memory of Polish Jews and Jewish culture, continues to be engaged in conflict. What emerges is a passionate conversation among cultural critics, philosophers, literary theorists, historians, theologians, and writers on the vexing issues of responsibility, forgiveness, reconciliation, and national and religious identity.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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Introduction: : Toward an Ethical Community

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pp. 1-18

In Anna Bikont's book My z Jedwabnego (Us from Jedwabne, 2004), an ethnographic-testimonial work on past and present Polish-Jewish relations, we are introduced to one of her interlocutors, Jan Skrodzki, a retired engineer from Gdansk, whom she describes as "an ordinary Pole." Carrying a memory of ...

I. History and Memory

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1. The Dark Past: Polish-Jewish Relations in the Shadow of the Holocaust

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pp. 21-39

It has been observed that memory of the past perhaps tells us more about the present society than it does about the past itself: it reveals more about the current condition and self-image of society and its level of reflexivity over its collective history than about the past events. Memory of the past, to draw on ...

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2. Jedwabne: History as a Fetish

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pp. 40-63

This chapter explores the psychosocial aspects of the Polish debate over Jan Tomasz Gross's book Neighbors (2000). The defense mechanisms that became apparent in the course of this debate are examined within the larger European context of postwar discussions about the recent historical past. ...

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3. Living with Antisemitism

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pp. 64-66

But still I harbor doubts as to whether I am an appropriate addressee of such a survey. After all I don't "belong to two different cultures." I belong either to many cultures or to just one, Polish culture. I say many, because raised on European art and literature I have undoubtedly absorbed European culture and, ...

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4. Notes for a Grave under Snow

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pp. 67-83

As an Australian Jew of Polish parents, I have childhood memories that are filled with narratives of the events surrounding my late parents' traumatic escape from the Holocaust that engulfed many members of their families. They had lived in Lodz, Poland, until September 1939, when, in the face of the Nazi ...

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5. Bearing False Witness?: "Vicarious" Jewish Identity and the Politics of Affinity

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pp. 84-109

Dekalog 8: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witnesswas a highly praised segment in a ten-part film series made by the esteemed Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, each part of which references one of the ten biblical commandments.1 Dekalog 8 grapples with the problem of Polish-Jewish reconciliation ...

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6. St. Korczak of Warsaw

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pp. 110-134

Korczak (Poland, 1990) is the better known of two extant cinematic attempts to trace the life and legacy of renowned Polish-Jewish teacher, pediatrician, and children's rights advocate Janusz Korczak. Born Henryk Goldszmit, he perished in the gas chambers of Treblinka after a 1942 deportation there from ...

II. Literary Encounters

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7. The Holocaust, Jedwabne, and the Measure of Time

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pp. 137-148

An important attempt to understand the decisive impact of the Holocaust on both fiction and critical discourse is Maurice Blanchot's The Writing of the Disaster (1980). Though Blanchot does not equate the disaster referred to in the title exclusively with the Holocaust, he indicates that what happened is epochal, ...

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8. The Ceremony (Excerpts from a Play)

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pp. 149-181

The Ceremony is based on two events, both of which took place in the small Polish town of Jedwabne, sixty years apart in time. The first event, the rediscovery of which several years ago shocked Poland and much of world opinion, was a massacre perpetrated in 1941 by the town's Polish inhabitants on their ...

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9. It Began with Pleasantries

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pp. 182-186

We were lying by the village pool in southwest France - trust me, there will be a Jewish theme before we reach the digestif. As usual I was deep in the new Philip Roth. (On holiday I am invariably deep in the new Philip Roth. I am not sure if this proves how rarely I take holidays or how prolific Philip Roth is.) ...

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10. Imagined Topographies: Visions of Poland in Writings by Descendants of Survivors

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pp. 187-204

A 1992 opinion poll showed that 25 percent of Poles put the number of Jews then in Poland at between 750,000 and three and a half million, while another 10 percent thought there were between four and seven million. In reality there were around six thousand.1 In what has become a commonplace ...

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11. Figures of Memory: Polish Holocaust Literature of the "Second Generation"

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pp. 205-222

More radically than any other modern event, the Holocaust marks a new stage in human history, even if it is possible, following Tadeusz Borowski or Zygmunt Bauman, to seek its roots within European civilization.1 Repeatedly we observe not only the consequences of a profound crisis of civilization ...

III. Religion, Ethics, Politics

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12. A Breakthrough in the Teachings of The Church on Jews and Judaism

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pp. 225-235

The message contained in paragraph 4 of the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions proclaimed at the Vatican Council (Nostra Aetate, no. 4; see epigraph) - refers to memory. The memory of the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock ...

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13. The Vision and Language of the Other: Jedwabne versus the Auschwitz Convent Controversy

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pp. 236-252

Traditional Christian belief holds that Christianity is the fulfillment of biblical Judaism. Jews deny that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah and thus fall short of their calling as God's Chosen People. Whether or not there is a direct link between nearly two thousand years of this Christian "teaching of contempt" ...

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14. Forgiving, Witnessing, and "Polish Shame"

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pp. 253-274

I went to Jedwabne on August 15, 2001. I had to go there after receiving an email from a Polish friend who had participated in the commemorative ceremony on July 10. She wrote: "I thought there would be more people there. But, apart from the representatives of Jewish communities, the President ...

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15. "Who Is My Neighbor?": Ethics under Duress

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pp. 275-300

Tower block living, an urban experiment designed to facilitate the cohabitation of different social classes, is a dream turned sour in postcommunist Poland. Dirty staircases, noisy refuse chutes, and stinking lifts covered in graffiti testify to the failure of the promise of a blissful communal life. ...

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16. Melancholic Nationalism and the Pathologies of Commemorating the Holocaust in Poland

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pp. 301-326

Coming sixty years after the tragic event, the publication of Jan Tomasz Gross's book about the massacre of the Jewish inhabitants of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbors, and the belated national debate about Polish antisemitism, shame, guilt, and responsibility that followed, have raised difficult questions ...


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pp. 327-330


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pp. 331-337

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205994
E-ISBN-10: 0803205996

Publication Year: 2007