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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 6. The Same as the Nazis



Most Poles are not oppressors, actual or prospective. Asked “How can Jews live in a country where their ancestors were murdered” Konstanty Gebert writes about the people, Poles and Jews, “who went to prison for having printed my words” and about the Jews who “on a par with the Poles created this country.”109 The history of Polish attitudes towards Jews can be shameful, but it is not more so than for example the history of France and its Vichy government, or that of Germany with its Judensau theology and its implementation of the “final solution to the Jewish question”. Yet when Lévy and Dayan’s comment on Brenner’s photographs from Poland, they reveal a transference of guilt from the Nazis – German and Austrian originators, constructors, enforcers, and mechanics of the Shoah – onto Poles. The shift manifests itself in the kind of “confusing” of Polish and German history which ascribes to Poles – including contemporary Poles – a responsibility for the roles which had historically been played by Nazi Germans.

Diaspora’s representation of Poland includes texts by four authors, two of them renowned academics; all these interpretations speak of the Shoah, three mention the Poles as murderers, but none mentions the German Nazis! Making contemporary Poles collectively accountable for Nazi crimes is achieved by omission and misconstruction. One assumption is that Poles are inherently different, the other is that Poles kill Jews. Brenner’s images as commented on by Lévy and Dayan show a perspective where the internal,...

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