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Poland and Polin

New Interpretations in Polish-Jewish Studies


Edited By Irena Grudzińska-Gross and Iwa Nawrocki

The contributions in this volume reflect discussions and controversies during the Princeton University Conference on Polish-Jewish Studies (April 18–19, 2015). The debates examined the politics of history in Poland, as well as the scholarly and pedagogical need to move beyond national and diasporic narratives in researching and teaching Polish-Jewish subjects. They focused on the role and meaning of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
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Problematizing the “Jewish Turn”


What I call the “Jewish turn”1 refers to the revival of Jewish communities in Poland – both religious and secular2 – as well as the phenomenal interest of non-Jewish Poles in all things Jewish. From the commercial success of klezmer music; the proliferation of Judaica bookstores and Jewish-style restaurants; the opening of new museums, memorials, and memory spaces; the growing engagement of artists and public intellectuals with Poland’s Jewish past and Polish-Jewish relations more broadly; and the emergence of Jewish studies programs at multiple universities.3 Last but not least is the relatively small but not insignificant number of conversions to Judaism, often from people who discover Jewish roots and feel compelled to “return to the source,” but sometimes from Poles without Jewish ancestry yet called or seduced by the appeal of Judaism.4 This brief essay seeks to problematize the Jewish turn by discussing some of its significations and identifying the challenges it poses.

The Jewish Turn as Polish Problématique

The extermination of Jews and destruction of Jewish culture of Poland is presented (and increasingly experienced) in liberal intellectual, artistic, and ecumenical milieux as a tragic loss for Polish culture and identity. It is in that name that it must be rescued, saved, or even resurrected. Poland, individuals in those groups argue, is not homogeneous. But instead of emphasizing the ideological heterogeneity of its current-day population as a legitimate form of diversity, they emphasize its ← 175 | 176 → (ethno)cultural heterogeneity, resulting from an ethnically and...

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