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Describing Who?

Poland in Photographs by Jewish Artists


Joanna Auron-Gorska

«Describing Who?» reveals the significance of photographs taken in contemporary Poland by professional American, French and Israeli Jewish photographers. Writing critically from the vantage point of her Polish and Jewish background, Joanna Auron-Górska argues that while visual representations of Poland and the Poles may appear atemporal, they are neither ahistorical nor apolitical. They are, instead, influenced by the culturally conditioned construct within which Poland serves to maintain the memory of the Shoah, by war trauma, and by post-war politics. The attitudes of foreign Western Jewry to non-Jewish Poles and Poland have so far received limited scholarship; this analysis is a contribution towards enlightening the conversation between Poles and Jews from outside of Poland.
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Chapter 1. Demonstrations of Intent



The attitudes of American, western-European and Israeli Jews to non-Jewish Poles and Poland are certainly complex. On the one hand, there exists a profound and fixed notion of a Poland that is hostile, if not murderous to the Jews; on the other, there is a marked indifference towards the actual Poland, whatever it might be like. Paradoxically, this lack of interest in confronting contemporary Polish reality may be made more profound by visiting Poland: one such example is a disregard for the Poles fostered by the March of the Living.

Those participants in the March who claim that they are not interested in learning about Poland or talking to Poles because Poland is “a cemetery” where they come to tour death camps in order to “say kaddish for their dead”8 may cite mourning the murdered Jews as the reason for their ignorance, but it is equally plausible that, rather than choose to remain uninformed, these youngsters are simply not offered opportunities for seeing what Poland outside the death camps is like or having conversations with the Poles. The latter includes conversations with Polish Jews. The reluctance is not new. In 2004 the son of the then Israeli Minister of Justice, Yair Lapid published a letter to his son Yoav in which he advises his son that when walking “the streets of Poland [he should] try to look at human faces. Look at the little things: smeared face powder, a bit of food in the corner...

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