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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 3. Poland without the Jews



Solidarity with Polish Jews could evoke a solidarity with Poland as one of the Jewish homelands. The solidarity is either non-existent or finds no reflection in photographic image, which virtually denies the existence in Poland of human life, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Does it mean that communal Jewish responsibility does not extend to Polish Jewry? This is how a Polish Jewish student remembers the March of the Living and an evening at an Israeli military base:

In Poland we were reviving a memory, here we were to feel like Jews. In Poland we’d suffered, here we rejoiced, tasting the flavour of Israel. And suddenly everything revealed itself to be an illusion. When representatives of forty-three countries, participants in the March, were called to the stage so that they could each say a few words in front of the microphone, Polish Jews were passed over. It was the greatest humiliation of my life.20

Not only is such denial of Polish Jewry a humiliation; it is outward betrayal. A similar observation is reflected in Louise Steinman’s description of her 2013 conversation with Konstanty Gebert, who tells her that

“‘It’s only been four years since Poles were allowed to participate in the March (…) Before that, there was no Polish participation. Not only was it discouraged, it was forbidden, though Poles would apply.’

‘Even Polish survivors of the camps?’ I asked.

‘Poles. Any Poles,’ (…) The same applied to Polish Jews....

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