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Arrested Mourning

Memory of the Nazi Camps in Poland, 1944–1950


Zofia Woycicka

«Analyzing the earliest debates over the memory of Nazi camps, the author makes an important contribution to the study of their origin, reducing the existing asymmetry in our knowledge on the relevant phenomena in Western and Eastern Europe. This is all the more important as the Poles and Polish Jews, whose involvement in the disputes over memory she describes, were the most important group of survivors and eyewitnesses of the camps and so the genuine group of memory.» Prof. Dariusz Stola (Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Science)
«The vast number and variety of sources used in this work create a fascinating picture of a multifaceted, rich, vivid, and at times heated debate conducted in Poland in the late 1940s. A great merit of Wóycicka is to preserve this discourse from oblivion and to bring it back into the public sphere.» Barbara Engelking (Polish Center for Holocaust Research)
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My research confirms Robert Traba’s claim that in the years 1944/1945-1949 social memory of the Second World War had not yet been codified in Poland and was the subject of numerous, often competing narratives and memorial projects. Although, even at that time, certain topics connected with the events of 1939-1945, particularly those relating to the Soviet occupation, were strictly censored, on many issues debate was still possible. One area of controversy was the interpretation and method of commemorating one of the most traumatic aspects of the wartime experience: Nazi concentration camps and death camps.

Two institutionalised memory groups had a decisive impact on the course of this debate: the PZbWP, which mostly represented Polish former concentration camp prisoners, and the CKŻP, which represented Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Despite their partly shared experiences, these two groups remained largely isolated from one another. This was due to their differing fortunes during the war, their sense of alienation from society in general, the impact of Jewish self-help traditions on the emergence of separate social institutions, and anti-Semitism. Both organisations tried in various ways to shape society’s image of the Second World War, and bitter conflicts often arose between them. However, these conflicts were waged not just between the PZbWP and CKŻP but also within the two communities concerned. For these memory groups did merely restrict themselves to promoting their own vision of the past: they also created a forum in which survivors could discuss their experiences...

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