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168 SHOFAR Fall 1999 Vol. 18, No. I realistic about our chances of arriving at a uniform Christian understanding of Jewish peoplehood, belief, and practice. Michael E. Lodahl Department of Religion Northwest Nazarene College Stranger in Our Midst: Images of the Jew in Polish Literature, edited by Harold B. Segel. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996. 400 pp. $18.95. This is a curious book. Aiming to present a balanced picture ofPolish attitudes towards the Jews, to draw on the "greatest European literature of Jewish experience" in order to retrieve historical complexities and vibrance of the everyday life, Stranger in Our Midst effectively introduces the reader to the wide range ofantisemitic expression. Few exceptions aside, the texts included here-poems, prose, polemic-exemplifyjust how varied in form and intensity the dislike ofthe Jew can be. Unintentionally, no doubt, the editor thus provides us with an excellent primer on the intellectual, moral, and emotional dimensions of what even scholars often too quickly subsume under the general label of "antisemitism." Some of the shadings here are specific to the Polish context, but a great deal is not, thus increasing the overall pedagogical value of the exercise. This is not an easy read, but ifone wishes students to gain a good grasp of the multiple obstacles Jews have faced from friend and foe alike, the lessons are worth it. As acontribution, specifically, to scholarship in the field ofPolish-Jewish relations, Segel's collection ought to receive decidedly mixed marks. On the one hand, it does offer those not versed in Polish a rich repository of source material; the inclusion of older texts, in particular, allows for much deeper understanding ofthe claims found in history books. Literary voices are a valid and valuable guide through the nuances of experience. Yet it is precisely because literature has so much to offer that Stranger in Our Midst fails in its approach to the more recent history. Segel not only excludes the works by Jewish artists writing in Polish, he insists that they have nothing to say about the vicissitudes ofPolish-Jewish relations. While distributing identification tags to Poles "ofJewish origin" presents major problems throughout this century, problems that are worth a study in themselves, generous reading oftheir writing should not. And it is in the writings of Aleksander Wat or Kazimierz Brandys, explicitly dismissed here, that one finds some of the most poignant reflections and ways to understand what the life ofPolish Jews was about. More troubling still is another exclusion, especially in a book published in 1996, and that is contemporary works by Jews writing in Polish. Claiming that "for all practical considerations, Poland has no Jews," Segel is no longer making an interpretive error, he is now falsifying history. For in one of the most remarkable Book Reviews 169 stories of Jewish continuity in post-Holocaust Europe, Poland's Jews have seen both their numbers swell and their cultural presence grow beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Beginning twenty years ago, when an interest in things Jewish implied opposition to the Communist regime, fueled by that regime's international political designs since 1983, and then given full support in the newly democratic Poland, the revival ofPoland's Jewish culture is not a strictly Jewish affair. Indeed, the part ofthis story that may seem truly remarkable, given the difficult history, is the non-Jews' contribution to the preservation ofPoland's Jewish heritage. Curiously, Segel includes in his collection a fragment of Umschlagplatz, by Jaroslaw Marek Rymkiewicz, the book perhaps best exemplifying the richness ofthis new Polish encounter with the Jew. It is impossible, though, to gauge its significance, as the rest of the story is missing. To be fair, when looking at the developments in Poland from a North American Jewish perspective, a shift from virtually silent, at most 10,000 Jews, to an institutional presence of some 50,000 (and counting) may appear too small to matter. But once again, ifknowing who is a Jew in Poland today is problematic, recognizing the vastly changed literary scene ought not to be. The sheer volume of discussion surrounding Polish-Jewish relations, together with the continuing flow ofmemoirs as well as fiction describing the Jewish experience that emerged...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 168-169
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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