Table Of Contents
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- About the author
- About the book
- Citability of the eBook
- List of Abbreviations
- The Local Community in Late Modernity
- The Second World War as a Key Event in Poland’s Most Recent History
- The Global Turn Toward Moral Narratives
- The Catholic Church and Religious Language Used for Commemorating the National Past
- Postwar Forms of Remembrance – a Time of Crosses and Shrines
- Forms of Remembrance of the 1980s and 1990s – a Time of Sanctuaries
- Forms of Remembrance in the Twenty-First Century – a Time of Narrative Projects
- Research Methodology
- The Book’s Structure
- Kałków-Godów During the Second World War
- Vernacular Memory of the Second World War
- Local Controversies Connected with Memory of the Second World War
- National Martyrdom in the Sanctuary Narrative
- Kałków-Godów as a Site of Memory for Peasants
- The Power of Religious Memory
- Michniów During the Second World War
- The History of the Michniów Pacification’s Memorialization
- The Memory of a Rural Community and Historical Policy
- Controversies Relating to Narratives of Wartime Events
- Controversies Surrounding Commemoration of the Pacification
- Anniversary Ceremonies: Between Local and National Memory
- The Transmission of Memory on a Local, National, and Global Level
- Between Traditional and Modern Methods of Commemoration
- Jedwabne During the Second World War
- The Massacre of 10 July 1941 and Its Contemporary Interpretation
- Memory of the Massacre of Jews in Jedwabne up to 2001
- Jedwabne from 2000 to 2001
- The Jedwabnians as a Parish Community
- The PRL Monuments in Jedwabne
- The “Jewish” Monument – a Lost Milieu of Memory?
- Jedwabne’s “Monument Therapy” – the Sybiraks Memorial
- Stage Two of “Monument Therapy” – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- The Jedwabnians’ Post-Vernacular Memory
- The History of Markowa
- The Ulma Family
- The Beginnings of the Ulmas’ Commemoration
- Family Memory and the Ulmas’ Commemoration
- The Beginnings of Religious Commemoration – 2003: The Watershed Year
- Between Religious and Secular Remembrance
- The Museum Memory Project and National Memory of the Ulmas
- The Meaning of Material Repositories for Memory of the Ulmas
- Not only the Ulmas – On the Polish Righteous
- The Religious and National Political Dimensions of Memory of the Ulmas
- List of Figures
- Note on Authors
Shortly after the road from Warsaw to Pruszków passes the Warsaw Commuter Railway level crossing, a stone shrine containing a statue of the Virgin Mary emerges from a group of old trees in the village of Reguły in the Commune of Michałowice. A plaque over the alcove containing the statue bears the following inscription: “Lord, keep us from Famine, Fire and War”. Below this inscription, the shrine’s history has been clearly and carefully engraved: “The inhabitants of the Gromada of Reguły are erecting this memorial on the third anniversary of the victorious conclusion of the war as a votive offering expressing our gratitude to God for rescuing the village and its inhabitants from the extermination during the world war and Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945 and that we may ask Christ the Lord and Our Lady Queen of Peace for Eternal Peace. 1948.” The shrine has been well looked after and painted. It is decorated with immaculate, carefully-fastened colored ribbons. Freshly planted flowers grow within the enclosure partitioning off the sacred space and in pots placed around the statue of the Virgin Mary. Evidently, this place attracts regular, enthusiastic visitors. This is clear from the candles burning around the shrine and the new bench placed there in 2010 as part of a revitalization project. The shrine is located next to the commune office, which was built a few years ago, and an enormous parking lot. The course of the road was changed to accommodate the new office’s construction, but the shrine was not moved. Instead, it stands where the village’s inhabitants erected it in 1948. Even though it looks surreal surrounded by an old stand of trees that fails to integrate with space developed according to the rules of contemporary urban planning, it continues to “live on” as a site that attracts local residents celebrating holidays or gathering for religious rituals. Does this place prove the continued durability of milieux de mémoire?
Pierre Nora introduced the notion of lieux de mémoire into the social sciences and humanities, contrasting these sites of memory with milieux de mémoire, or environments of memory. However, he did not define what, in his view, these environments possessing real memory actually consisted of. Undoubtedly, Nora believed that such milieux no longer exist because they have been completely replaced in the contemporary world by sites of memory. Yet the existence of such environments of memory is illustrated, in his view, by primitive or archaic societies. He describes this type of memory as “an integrated, dictatorial memory – unself-conscious, commanding, all-powerful, spontaneously actualizing, a memory without the past that ceaselessly reinvents tradition, linking ←15 | 16→the history of its ancestors to the undifferentiated time of heroes, origins, and myth”3. It appears that it would not be possible to find such milieux containing real memory in modern Europe. However, Nora’s notion inspired us to investigate the relations between the remnants of milieux de mémoire and the contemporary lieux de mémoire that had been taking their place. Sites of memory are a community’s response to the feeling that their ties to the past and their traditions are being eroded and therefore need special places in space, ceremonies, books, and symbols to enable this community to remember what has happened to it over the years. The question then arises of how we can be sure that such a milieu used to exist4. Could it not in fact be a creation of the imagination constructed in opposition to what contemporary Europeans observe around themselves, a creation, in fact, that mythologizes life “in olden times”? If people do not remember now, they surely did in the past. If they have the feeling that things are changing suddenly now, they surely once had a feeling of permanency and lack of variability. On the other hand, such sites as the roadside shrine mentioned above show that certain past events live on in the memory of a community, irrespective of the passage of time. What is more, these memory markers outline the spatial dimension of a community’s life while serving as memory rituals of a religious nature. Since similar shrines and their histories can be encountered at other sites in Poland, we became intrigued by the relation between allusion to the past (memory) and the religious aspect of life (along with the narrative, ritual, material, and spatial dimension of this).
At the outset, we want to emphasize that we believe that environments of memory (milieux de mémoire), as conceived by Pierre Nora, do not in fact exist in contemporary Poland. Nevertheless, we believe that local communities possess their own vernacular mode of remembering and commemorating the past. In fact, the increasing number of research projects being conducted in the Polish countryside have demonstrated the existence of such vernacular commemoration practices5. However, most authors perceive these vernacular ←16 | 17→commemorations as mostly non-lieux de mémoire, that is, “sites whose past does not allow them to be completely negated (…), but which, for unarticulated reasons, are not-to-be-included in local history. Since an effort is being made to neutralize their meanings, they are not completely forgotten”6. These sites are, therefore, “accessible but invisible,” as Roma Sendyka claims: “rather than a state of amnesia, we are dealing with a set of impulses – taking the form of a half-measure or homeopathic remedy – that preserve relations to the past while keeping it at a safe distance”7.
We believe that it would be risky to use the non-site of memory category, despite its intellectual appeal, to analyze vernacular forms of remembrance. The most important consideration for us is that if the non-site of memory is a homeopathic half-measure substituting for real commemoration, it means that there must be a non-homeopathic mode of remembrance that is completely genuine. But what form might this take? That of a monument? Postcolonial researchers have shown that the perception that secular monuments are the most efficient repositories of memory arose from the manner in which Western culture perceives processes of remembering and forgetting, so a perception of this nature should be deconstructed and reconsidered. As Sabine Marschall claims, vernacular memory, much like official memory, forms a society’s collective memory but uses different markers and material objects to do this. Vernacular commemorations are strongly linked to grassroots traditions, since they include “a diverse range of collective memory practices, often highly localized, informal, ←17 | 18→spontaneous, ephemeral, community-based, or rooted in tradition, local custom, or popular culture”8. Marschall also stresses that the fact that there are no visible signs of commemoration need not mean that a local community has forgotten its past. Marschall references traditional South African commemoration practices to demonstrate that “grave sites are not necessarily physically marked or publicly visible. They exist primarily in communal memory; knowledge about them is rehearsed and transferred through oral tradition, notably poetry; specific taboos or rules of avoidance (hlonipha) govern the treatment of and access to such sites”9. What Marshall wants to stress most is that all vernacular commemorative practices stand in a symbiotic relationship with vernacular memory10. It should, therefore, be analyzed as such rather than through reference to monumental commemorations11.
In our opinion, the specific reference point which should be taken into consideration while analyzing vernacular memory in the Polish countryside is the Roman Catholic religion. As Antoni Sułek, a Polish sociologist who has conducted over 15 years of research on the Holocaust in his home region in Central-Eastern Poland, claims, “the spiritual atmosphere in a town or village is greatly inspired by its parish church”12. This is confirmed by our own research, whose findings we present in this book. Our research also shows that in the Polish countryside, it is still possible to discover memory based on a religious conception of the social order. Successive events can be permanently incorporated into memory ←18 | 19→of this type, thereby incorporating them in a memory sequence that defines a community’s identity while remaining consistent with its notions of the world and the rules that prevail within it.
However, contemporary local communities do not live wholly within a world organized by religious thought exclusively managed by ecclesiastical institutions. On the contrary, each community functions within a state and encounters the various institutions of the state in question on a daily basis (from local authorities to the general education system). Apart from the narrative alluding to the religious tradition, there is another functioning narrative, a national narrative13 (though in Poland’s case, these two narratives are sometimes closely interwoven). These communities also function in a globalized world where a system of swift information transferal (comprising the mass media or Internet) not only enables them to keep track of events from other parts of the world, but also to show the world what is happening in their part of the world. At the same time, there are globalized remembrance narratives that transcend the boundaries of the community from which they originate, a classic example of these being memory of the Holocaust, in particular its narratives and the way in which it uses the mass media14.
Any investigation of the Polish cultural landscape will reveal this diversity of forms and remembrance narratives. However, it quickly becomes apparent that religious language maintains a continuous hold over both local and state national history remembrance practices, including the commemoration of the most recent twentieth-century history, such as the Second World War and the communist period. Our main focus of interest was in fact the predominance of religious language in these Second World War commemorative practices. While they were in power, the communist authorities attempted to create a secular, non-religious language for commemorating the war. As far as the communist regime was concerned, the war, which it perceived as an event legitimizing its power, demanded a new language of remembrance15. Despite the construction ←19 | 20→of memorial complexes and many smaller, secular memory markers, it is sites of memory of a religious nature that predominate in today’s cultural landscape. Moreover, after 1989, there was a clear turn toward religious language of commemoration when the war was being remembered. The question of commemorating the war is all the more important because, as sociological studies show, memory of wrongs suffered during the Second World War exerts a key influence on the memory and identity of Poland’s inhabitants16. The fact that the texture of this memory is increasingly religious in nature has become very significant.
In this book, we concentrate on showing how memory of the war is manifested within the vernacular environment and what functions it performs. We have chosen Kałków-Godów, Michniów, Jedwabne, and Markowa because these are villages or small towns located far away from large cities containing vernacular communities centered around a parish church. In all of these places, the Church plays a very important role, not only within the religious sphere but also within the domain of memory. The state or Church became interested in these places at various points, attempting to use them as a basis for the creation of their own national memory project, so we decided to investigate how a vernacular community reacts to the appearance of an external memory actor that begins creating a memorial on their land, based on the local history but alluding to Polish national history. We attempted to respond to a number of questions. How does a local community respond to a project possessing the status of a Polish national site of memory being created within its territory and to the vision of the past this project expresses? Are the commemorative structures a local community has erected in response to their own war experiences more important to them than the newly created “national” ones? What language, symbols, and narrative motifs are employed in vernacular memorials and those created for the nation as a whole and how do they interact? Moments of confrontation seemed to us to be important because they force a local community to act and articulate its arguments. No matter whether a community chooses to accept or reject an external interpretation of its past, every action it takes forces it to justify its decision verbally. Consequently, the actions local communities take and the arguments they evoke reveal their way of thinking about the past, what they want to preserve for posterity, and how and why they wish to do this. On the other hand, we are also interested in the reasons why the state or Church suddenly ←20 | 21→begins to take an interest in local history, rediscover it, and make it an important component of their historical policy.
In this book, we put forward the thesis that, despite the local communities we studied having access to many diverse memory frameworks typical of late modernity, they primarily function within religious memory frameworks that are highly characteristic of milieux de mémoire. It is religion that provides them with a tool for remembering and interpreting the past while also forming the basis for evaluating, accepting, or rejecting memory narratives originating from other social orders. We also show that the state turns to religious language and symbolism as well when commemorating the war. It does this to bolster its moral capital in the international arena and matters of domestic policy. Incorporating the war into the centuries-old history of Christianity effectively sacralizes its meaning as an important historical event. Wartime attitudes have taken on a moral dimension as they begin to be exploited in state historical policy17. This is very important because in late modernity, as Michał Łuczewski claims, there has been a weakening of “the hegemony of economic capital through the dynamic accumulation of moral capital”18. The Church, with its centuries-old tradition, is in effect legitimizing the version of events proposed by the state. This turn by the state toward the stories of the nation’s past being proposed by the Church is, therefore, a consequence of the global social transformations occurring in late modernity, a time when the vision of unstoppable progress has been exhausted and is being replaced by various forms of returning to the past.
The era of late modernity in which we live is characterized by a form of social self-reflexivity toward traditions and our past that is provoking increasingly radical social changes19. However, although all communities are subject to narratives of change, the situation is rather more complex with traditional communities. In fact, there is no clear consensus among scholars about how such communities think, or even what they actually consist of. Furthermore, ethnographic studies show that our knowledge of the life of local communities is very limited and more reflective of what anthropologists and ethnographers imagine it should ←21 | 22→consist of than an accurate representation of the experienced reality20. Existing descriptions of traditional or rural communities are dominated by the conviction that such communities are “steeped in the past”21, or, turning to Pierre Nora’s terminology, it may be said that they are living in milieux de mémoire. A classic example of this stance is the description of Polish peasant culture created by Ryszard Tomicki, who claims that in peasant culture “the past does not so much sacralize the history of a community because it does not possess such a history as sacralize its ageless or timeless cultural present. Every element of culture, even if it was relatively new yet accepted by the group, was ‘synchronized’ with all the other elements of culture by referring it to the past […] which simultaneously, by ‘confirming’ its value, made it an integral ingredient ex definitione of an unchanging world order”22. In an approach of this type, the past, conceived as a constant presence permeating every aspect of communal life, is granted a key role in the explanation of the form assumed by a given culture. Such a stance has been adopted by researchers of illiterate societies who have treated them as “peoples without a history”, communities permanently living or immersed in the past, or communities in which the past is at once their present and past23. These researchers emphasize that stability, invariability, and a tendency to preserve group values grounded in a system of beliefs are of paramount importance to the traditional community24. Ethnographers highlight the religious roots of the belief systems they describe in the Polish countryside. Such religious beliefs have become ever more deeply ingrained in the Polish national identity as traditional local communities undergo processes of transformation25.
In the local communities we studied, past time is concrete and has a place on a timeline that is distinct from what is happening today. In their own narratives, ←22 | 23→people separate “wartime” from the continuum of social life and the dates appearing on the vernacular commemorative signs they construct serve as a continuous reminder of the passing of time. What really makes the manner in which these communities function stand out is their attitude toward the dead. At a local level, remembering the dead is more than a personal need. It is also a social and religious duty applicable to the whole community. There is an unquestioned belief among the community that deceased persons should be buried, then remembered in prayers, religious rituals and by tending to their places of burial. However, the fact that people from any given community fell victim to enemy action around the same time and were buried in collective graves also means that they will be remembered collectively. The same applies to religious rituals commemorating their deaths since these often comprise services that gather together the whole local community. Such evocations of religious language integrate past events into another reality in which the victims of these past events and those living today become one community. The duty to remember the dead is religious in nature and commemorative practices and the transmission of narratives of the past acquire a moral dimension. This is particularly evident in the case of memory of Second World War victims because the war lives on as a component of the community’s memory. Witnesses to these events continue to live in the villages where they happened, passing on their personal stories to younger generations and tending to sites of memory. The institution assisting them as they perform these duties is the Catholic Church.
Jay Winter26 points out that the two world wars were of crucial importance since they were the most convulsive events of the twentieth century. In Poland’s case, both wars exerted a crucial influence on its current territorial and demographic state as well as its outlook on the world. In 1918, the First World War and geopolitical transformations in Europe led to Poland reappearing on the map of Europe as a sovereign state after a period of partition. This was a country mainly comprising lands that had historically belonged to the First Polish Republic, which existed from 1569 to 179527. In the second half of the eighteenth century, these territories ←23 | 24→were incorporated into the Prussian, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires, respectively, following the partitioning of Poland among these powers. This division of territory lasted until the end of the First World War28. The newly established Second Polish Republic was a multiethnic state, extremely diverse economically and assailed by continual political problems. Despite attempts at reform, ethnic conflicts became increasingly evident and nationalist and anti-Semitic attitudes came to the fore, which were given additional impetus by radicalizing sentiments visible throughout Europe. This politically and socially divided, economically weak country was then faced with the outbreak of the Second World War29.
On 1 September 1939, the armies of the Third Reich advanced into Polish territory from the west and north without declaring war. A few days later, on 17 September, under the provisions of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which had been signed by the Third Reich and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on 23 August 1939 and contained a secret protocol providing for the division of the states of Central and Eastern Europe between the two signatories, the Second Republic’s eastern territories were occupied by the USSR30. The line dividing Poland between the Third Reich and USSR, which ran along the River Bug, was demarcated according to a Treaty on Borders and Friendship signed between the two powers on 28 September 1939 and remained in force until the armies of the Third Reich’s surprise attack on the USSR on 22 June 1941. On the lands incorporated into the USSR, the Soviet system of administration was introduced, collectivization was implemented and repressions commenced. People from the uppermost social classes, representatives of the intelligentsia, employees of Polish state structures and all the uniformed services (from soldiers to policemen and foresters), the clergy, and wealthiest peasants were deported deep into the USSR, incarcerated in Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (NKVD) prisons or killed.
The territories occupied by the Third Reich were divided up, with the lands in the west being directly incorporated into the German state and the remainder being transformed into the so-called General Government, with Kraków as its capital city. The position of governor was held by Hans Frank throughout the Government’s existence. After the Third Reich attacked the Soviet territory in Galicia (the southeastern part of the Second Republic), the District of Galicia was created, which was then incorporated into the General Government, while ←24 | 25→the rest of the land seized from the retreating Soviet army was divided into two Reichskommissariate. The region around the city of Białystok was also divided off to create a separate unit known as Bezirk Bialystok.
The German occupiers employed numerous methods of repression – inhabitants of the occupied territories were sent deep into Germany to work, a system of food rationing was established, higher education establishments and numerous cultural and research institutions were closed down, representatives of the Polish intelligentsia were liquidated, there were mass executions on the streets, and villages were pacified; any attempt at resistance was punishable by death. The Jewish population was subjected to a policy aimed at their exploitation, repression, and, ultimately, extermination. Jews were deprived of their property and resettled in ghettos (the one functioning in Warsaw being the largest in Europe), where they died in enormous numbers from starvation and illness, as well as being deported to concentration camps. In 1942, Operation Reinhardt was launched, during which around two million Jews were sent to death or concentration camps and murdered. It was also in this year that the death penalty for hiding Jews was introduced in the General Government. In total, around three million Jews who had been Polish citizens before the war lost their lives during the war.
Throughout the war, the structures of the Polish state functioned as the government-in-exile, first based in France and later in London, and the Polish Underground State, which operated in occupied Poland. Resistance was organized on two levels, as an armed struggle and a civilian unit managed by the Directorate of Civil Resistance, which was formed in 1941. The underground armed forces, known as the Union of Armed Struggle, were formed in November 1939 and later transformed into the Home Army,31 which numbered about 380,000 soldiers. The underground organizations reflected political divisions from before the war. Besides the Home Army, there were a number of other military organizations, including the Peasant Battalions, which were created in 1940 by the peasant movement, the National Armed Forces, created in 1942 by the national camp (which continued an underground struggle with the Red Army and forces of communist Poland after the war) and the Gwardia Ludowa (People’s Guard), created in 1942 by the Polish Workers’ Party (which merged in 1944 with the Home Army, by then ←25 | 26→fighting alongside the Red Army). The largest of these organizations was the Home Army, which conducted about 730,000 operations over the course of the war32. The Polish government-in-exile responded to Operation Reinhardt and the commencement of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto by establishing the Council to Aid Jews (operating under the pseudonym of Żegota) in occupied Poland, which attempted to assist people living in and hiding outside the ghettos33.
The territories contained within the eastern part of the newly established Poland were liberated in 1944, and the first state structures dependent on the Soviet Union were created. The decision that over half of Poland’s pre-war territory would not be included within the borders redrawn after the war was taken at the end of 1943 at the Tehran Conference. Furthermore, at the beginning of 1945, it was finally established at the Yalta Conference that Poland would be located within the Soviet zone of influence, receiving land taken from the German state as compensation for its lost eastern territories. Poland, therefore, emerged from the war and the double wartime occupation as a completely different state34.
The Second World War had altered Poland’s borders, political system, and social structure. The Polish state lost almost half of its pre-war territory to the Soviet Union. The lost territories had been the most ethnically and religiously diverse part of the country. Moreover, over 90 % of Poland’s Jewish population had been lost to the Holocaust. The Polish state had been transformed from a multi-ethnic country in which national and ethnic minorities had made up 30 % of the population to a state that was almost uniform in terms of nationality (today, no more than 4 % of the population is made up of ethnic minorities). This also meant that the country was much less religiously diverse, with representatives of religions and denominations other than Roman Catholicism constituting only a fraction of Polish society after the war.
Profound social changes also occurred after the war. Not only did Poland find itself within the Soviet zone of influence, but a new socialist political system was introduced to the country35. Nationalization and agricultural reform led ←26 | 27→to the noble and gentry classes not only losing their position in the state and society but also their landed estates. According to the official state ideology, it was the working and peasant classes that were to receive most support from state institutions. In Poland, unlike other countries in the socialist bloc, no attempt was made to collectivize agriculture. Although state-owned farms were created on the Soviet model, collectivization was not the dominant mode of organizing agricultural production. Private ownership of farms was retained, but land was taken away from the landed gentry and wealthiest peasants and given to poorer inhabitants of the countryside. The countryside was gradually modernized, but the traditional way of life – which was based on family ties and associated with the institution of the Church and religious practices – lost none of its importance36.
Some scholars researching the effect of the war and post-war sociopolitical transformations on the life of villages and small towns stress that the social situation after the war markedly changed over time, as such phenomena as the “traditional village community” became a thing of the past37. Others emphasize that although a social revolution was taking place in post-war Poland, Polish society barely noticed this so failed to consider what effect it might have on the contemporary social situation in their country38.
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- 2019 (June)
- cultural trauma vernacular community vernacular commemoration monument museum Polish-Jewish relations memory politics
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 298 pp., 20 fig. b/w.