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Hero, Conspiracy, and Death: The Jewish Lectures

Translated by Alex Shannon

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Maria Janion

With Hero, Conspiracy and Death: The Jewish Lectures, the author has written a book of sweeping significance for readers interested in Polish history, Jewish history, and the Holocaust in which she asks troubling questions: Can a Jew be both a Jew and a Pole? Are we right to talk of «worthy» and «unworthy» death in the Holocaust? What are the implications of Adam Mickiewicz’s philo-Semitism? In Zygmunt Krasiński’s anti-Semitism, do we see the «specter of elimination»? Are humanist and enlightenment values useful in analyzing the Holocaust, or did the experience of Nazi genocide render them obsolete? Tracing the history of anti-Jewish stereotypes in early nineteenth-century Poland (and beyond), the author offers answers to these questions that are bold, clear and compassionate.
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1. Life is Somewhere Else

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During the Crimean War, in the autumn of 1855, Mickiewicz left Paris for the East to assist in the creation a Polish military formation to fight on the side of Turkey, France and England against Russia – not “hired mercenaries, but rather allied Polish Battalions.”501 He was accompanied by his secretary, Armand Levy, an “Israelite devoted body and soul to Mickiewicz.”502 It was a common belief among our emigres at that time that “Poland’s fate hung in the balance in the Bosphorus” (Żywot, IV, 402)503 After the Springtime of the Peoples (1848-1849) and the Hungarian Revolution, which was suppressed by Russian military intervention under the orders of the “gendarme of Europe,” Tsar Nicholas I, hope remained that military conflict would break out between Russia and the western states along with Turkey. This conflict was supposed to weaken Russia. Complicated diplomatic intrigues, a network of blackmail schemes carried out among the partitioning powers, and activities of various kinds on the part of European emigres, were all aimed at the exploitation of Turkey, which played a key role at that time in the dreams and ambitions of those wanting to create an anti-Russian coalition. The detailed turns taken in the project to “create, in support of Turkey, a common front of peoples, battling against Austria and Russia” – the oppressors of those peoples struggling for independence – were complicated, but the idea remained the same. Emigres repeatedly argued that it was not necessary to incite an uprising in Poland; rather,...

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