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Reconstructing Memory

The Holocaust in Polish Public Debates


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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The debate sparked off by the publication of “Fear” by Jan Tomasz Gross was not the last episode in the series of public debates over Polish attitudes towards the Holocaust. Another one, although short, arose after the publication of an ar- ticle entitled: “The Dark Continent: Hitler's European Holocaust Helpers” in “Der Spiegel” in May 2009. The text concerned various forms of the complicity of European citizens in the extermination of Jews.854 The response it evoked in Poland was disproportionate to its content. It probably surprised not only the authors of the article, but all those who believed that after the Jedwabne debate and other discussions concerning the Polish-Jewish past, Poles had learnt a les- son. The most surprising element, however, was that the article, which provoked such an emotional reaction, did not add anything new to our knowledge about Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Moreover, Polish threads were few and men- tioned only briefly; they were reduced to the problem of szmalcowniks, pogroms in 1941 (“Pogroms in Poland by local people against Jews in 1941”) and post- war murders of Jews, of which, according to “Der Spiegel”, there were “at least 600, and possibly even thousands of Holocaust survivors.” If the intention of the authors had been some special focus on Poland, they certainly could have writ- ten much more – and there would be more things to write about, as Poland had been the main area of the Holocaust. For instance, one could refer to recent pub- lications of...

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