Poland in Photographs by Jewish Artists
Chapter 7. Hatred Personified
After the Nazis had virtually murdered off Polish Jews the Polish cultural machine experienced a structural breakdown. In the sudden absence of actual Jews there appeared a stand-in: the sculptured and painted representations referred to as żydki. Michael C. Steinlauf’s Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust contains a photograph of two such sculptures, captioned “Jews through Polish Eyes”172. Such photographs illustrate numerous press articles and blogs describing Jewish tourists’ visits to Poland. They illustrate also scholarly articles by Ruth E. Gruber, a researcher in the renewal of Jewish culture in Poland, and by Erica Lehrer, an anthropologist studying the assimilation of Jewish heritage by the Polish culture. Brenner’s portrayals of the Jews and the Poles are separated by a photograph of just such a carving.
These crudely-drawn, painted or sculptured figures, virtually all male, can be considered a manifestation of folklore or evidence and tool of antisemitism – and are, probably, all of the above. Even the name ascribed them – the żydek (plural żydki) – is a patronising diminutive connoting distance and disrespect. Comical and intriguing; nostalgic, but also sinister – Banasiewicz-Ossowska notes the “caricatural and in effect anti-semitic character of most of these toys”173 – they have existed in Poland since the 19th century, and were first created by the Krakow bricklayers who carved and sold them to supplement their income out of the building season. Lehrer’s “Repopulating Jewish Poland – in Wood” finds the “proto-form” of these little carvings in the traditional...
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