- Jewish Poland Revisited: Heritage Tourism in Unquiet Places by Erica T. Lehrer
In Jewish Poland Revisited, anthropologist Erica Lehrer takes readers on an intimate journey into the contemporary “space” of Kazimierz, the historically Jewish [End Page 298] neighborhood in Cracow, Poland, to investigate questions of identity, culture production, memory, and reconciliation. Lehrer guides her readers through the community in which she conducted her field work, introducing us to many of the social actors she met there. Among these are Poles who are working to preserve and perpetuate Jewish culture: Zdzisław Leś and his wife Lucyna, co-owners of the Jarden Jewish Bookshop, as well as several other business owners in the Jewish Quarter, tour guides who provide a “direct interface” with tourists, and many others. Readers also meet Józef, carver of Jewish figurines—“post-Jewish” cultural objects that are both intriguing and troublesome, depending upon one’s sensibility. Readers enter into the small, local Jewish community that centers around Kazimierz, and meet the Jewish heritage tourists who come from around the world. The inhabitants of this space challenge what we conventionally see as ethnic boundaries, causing us to wrestle with some big questions: Who owns the Jewish past? What does it mean to be Jewish, and who determines this meaning? What role can a non-Jewish Pole play in the preservation of Poland’s Jewish history?
Lehrer’s work consists of six chapters. The first provides readers with an understanding of the author’s research methods and offers a window into the community that she explored duringher field work. The second and third chapters investigate Jewish travel to Poland—specifically “mission” and “quest” trips. Both types of tourism have specific goals and serious implications for the participants. Lehrer characterizes “mission trips” such as the March of the Living as those that bring Jews to Poland to experience a “familiar, hermetic Holocaust story written prior to their arrival.” The ultimate aim, she suggests, is to reinforce a Jewish national identity through a rejection of everything Polish (p. 23). The trip perpetuates negative ideas about Poland and Poles and reifies the idea that antisemitism is waiting around every corner.
An alternative to these “mission trips” are the “quests” that are undertaken by individuals or small groups, often of extended families, “trying to ‘unwrite’ the unsatisfying stories” they received as their own family history through unscripted encounters with local Poles, Polish culture, and Polish-Jewish culture (p. 23). These interactions afford the opportunity to meet Poles, to experience the landscape, and to try to reconnect with pre-Holocaust family history. Lehrer paints a very stark contrast between these two types of touristic endeavor.
The fourth and fifth chapters examine Jewish cultural production in Kazimierz. Chapter Four centers on the work of non-Jewish Poles who engage in the preservation and perpetuation of Poland’s Jewish heritage in a variety of ways: offering tours, hosting cultural and educational events, providing spaces for interaction and investigation, and so on. These non-Jewish “memory workers” operate independently and as part of the larger Kazimierz community, including the existing Jewish community. The fifth chapter examines the production of “post-Jewish culture” through the “lightening rod” of wooden figurines of Jews—souvenirs that are sold in Kazimierz and throughout Poland (p. 23). Lehrer examines what these figures mean to those who [End Page 299] create them and potential purchasers’ varied responses to them. The final chapter pushes the reader to (re)consider questions of identity in contemporary Poland and some of the larger implications there. Once home to a large and vibrant Jewish population, postwar, post-Communist Poland is viewed by many as a graveyard. Most Jewish tourists come to visit death camps, ghettos, and cemeteries, or to search for ancestral homes. They often pay little attention to contemporary life in Poland. Yet some Jews and non-Jews visit to attend the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Cracow, spending time in Kazimeirz and mingling with its inhabitants. Ruth Ellen Gruber has characterized the...