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Hero, Conspiracy, and Death: The Jewish Lectures

Translated by Alex Shannon


Maria Janion

With Hero, Conspiracy and Death: The Jewish Lectures, the author has written a book of sweeping significance for readers interested in Polish history, Jewish history, and the Holocaust in which she asks troubling questions: Can a Jew be both a Jew and a Pole? Are we right to talk of «worthy» and «unworthy» death in the Holocaust? What are the implications of Adam Mickiewicz’s philo-Semitism? In Zygmunt Krasiński’s anti-Semitism, do we see the «specter of elimination»? Are humanist and enlightenment values useful in analyzing the Holocaust, or did the experience of Nazi genocide render them obsolete? Tracing the history of anti-Jewish stereotypes in early nineteenth-century Poland (and beyond), the author offers answers to these questions that are bold, clear and compassionate.


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II. Polish Antisemitism and Its Founding Myth


these problems, one that took place during the Great Sejm165, and another con­ nected with the proceedings of the Congress Poland Sejm in 1818. Of course, such discussions also took place later, and they became increasingly significant in the Positivist era, but my interest here is limited to the first two decades of the nineteenth century. I would also like to draw attention to the vitality in the twenti­ eth century of the myth of “Jewish uselessness,” and to the perfidious exploitation of this myth by the Nazis, who deceived Jews being sent to their immediate death with the argument that they were to finally become “useful,” that they were being sent to “work in the East.”166 Writing today about “using” Jews raises difficulties; certain words conjure up heinous analogies. And genocidal practices have forced us to reflect on a question that emerged already in the nineteenth century: What is to be done with the Jews if it turns out that they cannot be made into useful citizens? Lubliner wrote: “To expel from the country [Poland] all the Jews - that great, two-million mass - is to commit an act of shame and ignominy, and to become a disgrace to all civilized nations.” Lubliner regarded that idea as a negative alternative to the “political, unconditional and direct incarnation of the mass of Jews into the mass that is the Polish nation,”167 but the fact is that he was able to write of the expulsion of Jews from Poland...

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