Imaginary Neighbors: mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the ...

Wajda's own father perished in the Katyń massacre and the ... Gross's notorious book Neighbors (2000), which details the massacre of hundreds of Jews at.
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TranscUlturAl vol. 1, (4) 2011, 147-152.


It’s Different in Poland Book review by Margret Grebowicz Goucher College Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust Ed. Dorota Glowacka and Joanna Zylinska, University of Nebraska Press, 2007, 337 pp. Following the recent death of Polish President Leszek Kaczyński and numerous members of his administration in a plane crash over Smolensk, Vladimir Putin allowed Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyń to be shown on Russian TV. The film depicts the massacre of upwards of 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 at the hands of the Soviet army and the subsequent cover-up of the crime, which pinned it on the Nazis until official recognition by the Russian government in 1990. The script of the film is based on a fiction, a historical novel depicting real events. Wajda’s own father perished in the Katyń massacre and the opening credits end with the dedication, “moim rodzicom”. For my parents. Kaczyński and the other victims of the crash were on their way to commemorate the massacre when the plane crashed. The film appears on Russian television, but Putin’s administration continues the refusal to treat the victims as victims of Stalinist repression and thus to grant them formal posthumous rehabilitation. Poles continue to speculate whether the officials’ deaths were actually accidental. All of this combines to form what we might call, following Joanna Zylinska, the “event Katyń.” When it comes to the war and the propaganda machines at work after the war, the Polish social imaginary offers a rather spectacular example of the problematics of memory. The collection Imaginary Neighbors comes in response to the publication of Jan Tomasz Gross’s notorious book Neighbors (2000), which details the massacre of hundreds of Jews at the hands of their Polish neighbors in the village of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941. The conversation unfolding over the past eight years, however, dramatically transcends Jedwabne as a historico-geographical location, taking up major themes in contemporary political

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TranscUlturAl vol. 1, (4) 2011, 147-152.

philosophy that, however fruitful, have remained overly abstract. Joanna Michlic writes in her chapter that the debate about Neighbors signaled an important moment in the Polish interrogation of Poland’s dark past. The debate was the most profound of any discussions of Polish-Jewish relations after World War II. It resulted in a major inquiry into the dominant representations of Polish-Jewish relations in World War II as well as into the Polish national self-image and identity. (26) Gross’s second book on this subject, Fear (2007), discusses Polish anti-Semitism after the war and makes the speculative (and damning) claim that the post-war events in question serve as direct evidence of Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Both works by Gross have been deeply criticized by scholars, and yet they continue to inspire heated, ongoing controversy.1 So what exactly is the controversy about, if the facts and numbers offered in Gross’s work have been shown to be inflated and false? Clearly, what is at stake is not getting the facts and numbers “right,” but something else. This “something else” is what Imaginary Neighbors invites us to think through. Polish debates, inquiries, (self-)interrogations, and (self-)defenses continue against a specific backdrop, in which strong philo-Semitic sentiments and practices exist side-by-side with a virulent anti-Semitism. The very successful right-wing, Catholic, nationalistic youth group Młodzież Wszechpolska flourishes alongside the equally successful annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Kraków, and Judaic Studies programs are cropping up at most major universities, with the enrolled students (primarily non-Jewish Poles) walking around cities whose walls are spattered with