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Reconstructing Memory

The Holocaust in Polish Public Debates

Series:

Piotr Forecki

The book aims to reconstruct and analyze the disputes over the Polish-Jewish past and memory in public debates in Poland between 1985 and 2012, from the discussions about Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, Jan Błoński’s essay The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto, Jan Tomasz Gross’ books Neighbours, Fear and Golden Harvest, to the controversies surrounding the premiere of Władysław Pasikowski’s The Aftermath. The analysis includes the course and dynamics of the debates and, most importantly, the panorama of opinions revealed in the process. It embraces the debates held across the entire spectrum of the national press. The selection of press was not limited by the level of circulation or a subjective opinion of their value. The main intention was to reconstruct the widest possible variety of opinions that were revealed during the debates. Broad symbolic elites participated in the debates: people who exercised control over publicly accessible knowledge, legitimacy of beliefs and the content of public discourse.

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Chapter III: The national debate on the crime in Jedwabne

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Chapter III The national debate on the crime in Jedwabne 1. The antecedents and the structure of the debate In May 2000, the book by Jan Tomasz Gross entitled “Neighbors: The Destruc- tion of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland” was released by Pogranicze Publishing House.426 Its author addressed the subject of the crimes committed by the Polish citizens of Jedwabne village against their Jewish neighbours. The publication of the book, and the events it depicted, sparked off a stormy and multi-threaded national debate. This became the longest and most intense debate about the attitudes of Poles towards the Holocaust and pre-war Polish-Jewish relations that had ever taken place in Poland and the one involving the greatest number of participants. Additionally, its uniqueness stemmed from the type and importance of the problem that Poles had to face. Claude Lanzmann and his “Shoah” had already mentioned the sensitive topics of pre-war Polish-Jewish relations and Poles as witnesses of the Holocaust. Jan Błoński in his brilliant essay “The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto” had brought public attention to the Polish shame of indiffer- ence towards dying Jews, and conflicts over the Auschwitz concentration camp upset the self-image of Poles as the main – if not the only – victims of the Nazis. However, Jan Tomasz Gross was the one who confronted Poles with the prob- lem of direct Polish involvement in the Holocaust. Thus, as Sławomir Sierakow- ski noted, the debate on the Jedwabne massacre was “an attempt to imagine...

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