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World War II and Two Occupations

Dilemmas of Polish Memory


Anna Wolff-Powęska and Piotr Forecki

This anthology presents the work of several authors from different academic disciplines. Film and literature experts, sociologists, historians and theatrologists analyse the Polish memory of the Nazi and Stalinist occupations, which are key components of Polish collective identity. Before the political turn of 1989, the memory of World War II was strictly controlled by the state. The elements of memory related to the Soviet occupation were eradicated, as well as any other elements that did not fit the official narrative about the war. Unblocking the hitherto limited public discourse resulted in the process of filling the blank pages of history and the development of different and frequently conflicting communities of memory.
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Lech M. Nijakowski - Fighting for Victim Status: Polish Debates on Genocide and the Collective Memory of World War II


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Lech M. Nijakowski

Fighting for Victim Status: Polish Debates on Genocide and the Collective Memory of World War II

Since the end of the Cold War, the international politics of memory has undergone a dynamic transformation.1 This transformation is not only related to shifts in global alliances and statuses of particular states; it is also connected with the intensification of social changes that are typical of late modernity. Political rituals of atonement have become an important element of national and foreign policy. Countries that used to deny crimes from the past have been forced to face their dark legacy.2 The status of victims has particularly increased in importance. While in the past nations based their positive self-stereotype on victories and successes, defeat and tragedy are the widespread basis of collective identity today. There is no clear date for the beginning of this phenomenon. In Israel, for instance, the turning point came relatively early, mostly as a result of Eichmann’s trial (1961–1962) and the Six-Day-War (1967),3 although the process of casting Arabs in the role of neo-Nazis could be observed earlier.4 In the United States, on the other hand, commemoration of victories still prevails: suffice it to mention the controversial debate about the commemoration of Vietnam veterans.5

Poles are a particular nation in this respect. Over 123 years, in the period of formation of modern nation states, Poles were deprived of sovereignty and lived in three occupying countries: Prussia (later...

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