Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

“Remembering to Remember,” “Remembering to Benefit,” “Remembering to Forget”: The Variety of Memories of Jews and the Holocaust in Postcommunist Poland

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

 No. 113,

  • Poland presents the most advanced case of the transformation of the memory of Jews and the Holocaust in all of postcommunist Europe. For that reason, it can serve as a paradigm in comparative studies of the scope, dynamics, complexities, and challenges of this memory transformation.
  • The memory of Jews and the Holocaust in postcommunist Poland has persistently occupied a central stage in public debate since 1989. At present, the more than twenty-year-old boom of the “theater” of Jewish memory shows no sign of declining. This does not, however, mean that the archeology of the Polish Jewish past has been completed and that a broad public consensus has been reached on how to remember the Jews and the Holocaust, especially the dark uncomfortable past in Polish-Jewish relations showing Christian (ethnic) Poles in a bad light.
  • One can differentiate three key dimensions in this landscape of memory: “remembering to remember,” “remembering to benefit,” and “remembering to forget.” The first underscores the void left after the genocide of Polish Jewry, and Polish-Jewish relations in all their aspects. In “remembering to benefit,” the key intention behind the recalling of the Jews and the Holocaust is to achieve tangible goals. In “remembering to forget,” the memory of Jews and the Holocaust is regarded as an awkward problem.
  • In Poland’s immediate future, these three modes of remembering Jews and the Holocaust will persist. This landscape of memory will continue to resemble a film with a multiple array of scenes—many fascinating and intellectually and morally uplifting, others confusing, hypocritical, intellectually dull, morally despicable, and opportunistic.


This interpretive essay considers the representations of Jews and the Holocaust in postcommunist Poland from 2002, the year when the public debate about the Jedwabne massacre of 10 July 1941 ended, until the present. The almost constant preoccupation with all things Jewish and the Holocaust in the realm of national discourse about “who we are” and “who we wish to be,” makes Polish society stand out among the postcommunist countries. This situation has prompted some individuals in Poland involved in the memory work to claim that the country is a unique state in Europe with regard to the “recovery” and commemoration of the Jewish past; “Poland has been one of the few countries in Europe—perhaps the only one—to confront its own past systematically.”[1]

Poland presents the most advanced case of the transformation of the memory of Jews and the Holocaust in all of postcommunist Europe. For that reason, it can serve as a paradigm in comparative studies of the scope, dynamics, complexities, and challenges of this memory transformation. But such studies have to take into account two aspects: the first concerns the historical differences in how the Holocaust played out in each of the nation-states and the variations in postwar memories of and relations with Jews. The second concerns the transnational features of some contemporary remaking of the memory of Jews and the Holocaust and the impact of the West on this remaking process.[2] Some themes and strategies for dealing with the memory of the Holocaust and Jews in Poland resemble those of other postcommunist states, but in the latter these aspects appear to emerge on a smaller scale and to reach a less developed stage or, in the case of Ukraine and Belarus, to be in a nascent form.[3]

The memory of Jews and the Holocaust in postcommunist Poland has persistently occupied a central stage in public debate since, as the historian Padraic Kenney calls it, the peaceful “carnival of the revolutions” of 1989.[4] At present, the more than twenty-year-old boom of the “theater” of Jewish memory shows no sign of declining. From the outset, intense emotions have characterized the process of uncovering the Jewish past in and for Polish history. Other key features are the elasticity and multiplicity of the representations of the Jews and the Holocaust; the fusion of official and private memories, absent during the communist era; and the variety of participants in memory projects, including Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors and their descendants living in Poland, Israel, and the West. The boom of memory does not, however, mean that the archeology of the Polish Jewish past has been completed and that a broad public consensus has been reached on how to remember the Jews and the Holocaust.

No doubt, different assumptions and agendas have underpinned the recovery of the memory of Jews in Poland and one can differentiate three key dimensions in this landscape of memory. These may be called “remembering to remember,” “remembering to benefit,” and “remembering to forget.”[5]

“Remembering to remember” is a process that underscores, on both the cognitive and the moral level, the void left after the genocide of Polish Jewry, and Polish-Jewish relations in all their aspects, including all the wrongs done to the Jewish minority before, during, and after the Holocaust. The intention of the advocates of “remembering to remember” is to mourn and to commemorate the loss of 10 percent of Poland’s prewar citizens and to come to terms with the dark past in relations with the Jewish minority by making this past part of Polish history, present historical consciousness, and public memory. Moreover, they frequently insist not only on integrating the history of Polish Jews and other ethnic and national minorities into Polish history, but also on treating Polish Jews and members of other minorities as members of the Polish nation understood in a civic sense. On a cultural level, their major goal is to create both a “community of identification” with, and an empathic memory for the “Other”—the Jews who were historically perceived as the key internal “Threatening Other”[6] on political, cultural, social, and economic levels. Thus, they are engaged in building a forward-looking and inclusive Polish society based on a civic concept of national belonging, and a respect for multiculturalism and for humanitarian values.

In “remembering to benefit,” the key intention behind the recalling and commemoration of the Jews and the Holocaust is to achieve tangible goals on individual, regional, and national levels. Here the focus is not so much on the past, but rather utilization of the past so as to obtain tangible benefits such as an elevated status and respectability in the international arena. The advocates of this mode of remembering are also future-minded; they underscore that the Polish Jews have had a long presence in the country and that today the descendants of the Polish Jews living abroad are welcome to be part of and to invest in the new postcommunist Poland. They insist that Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews should view Poland with a fresh eye, and regard this particular moment in history as a “zero point” in forging new and mutually beneficial Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli relationships. Though they acknowledge the “dark past” in the history of their nation, for them that past is a completely closed chapter; one should not dwell on it but, instead, look to the future. In the name of this “bright” future, they claim it is better to concentrate on those chapters in the history of the majority nation’s relations with the Jews that cast a good light, rather than on the dark history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

In “remembering to forget,” the memory of Jews and the Holocaust is regarded as an awkward problem that does not fit in well with the conservative, Catholic, and ethnonationalist model of Poland the advocates of this position affirm. Here, the recent wave of intense commemorations of the Holocaust and the unflagging interest in the Polish Jewish past evoke tense feelings and are disdainfully referred to as “moda na Żydów” (fashion for Jews).[7] The advocates of “remembering to forget” view the painful, dark past of Polish relations with its Jews, which is being gradually and systematically uncovered in the country and abroad, as an unjust insult to Polish history and memory and as a threat to national identity. Therefore, they often lash back at the advocates of “remembering to remember.” In “remembering to forget” the archeology of the dark and uncomfortable past provokes an upsurge of old anti-Jewish prejudices and stereotypes that are being carefully modified and repackaged, and expressed either overtly or covertly.

Each of these three approaches to memory is dynamic, and manifest in subtly different versions, depending on the key actors engaged with the past. Moreover, among specific actors—particular institutions and organizations, there is a great variety of approaches. For example, within the Catholic Church in Poland that in the past played a major role in shaping attitudes toward the Jews, one can observe an advocacy and support for “remembering to remember” among the members of the Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia, individual priests such as Rev. Adam Boniecki, Rev. Wojciech Lemański, and the late Archbishop Józef Mirosław Życiński (1948-2011), and the so-called liberal Catholic journals and their milieu, such as monthlies: Znak, Więź, and Przegląd Powszechny, and the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny. In contrast, the so-called Rydzyk’s Church with its daily Nasz Dziennik represents the core of the “remembering to forget” position.

In addition, some versions of “remembering to remember” overlap with some variants of “remembering to benefit,” and are difficult to differentiate. Thus, given the mosaic of approaches to the past and their representatives, the contemporary memory landscapes of Jews and the Holocaust resemble a colorful film of which some scenes run in sequence while others are not connected and do not add up to a single story. It is like a demanding film filled with a kaleidoscope of different and often contradictory images and themes. This essay paints vignettes of six key scenes.

Scene 1: Jews in Vogue

Poland today is exuberant with the theater of Jewish memories and cultural and social activities aiming at celebrating Jewish heritage and commemorating its loss. As one Jewish survivor visiting from New York put it jokingly, Poland is now a place “where Jews are being carried in arms” (“Żydzi noszeni są na rękach”). One illustration of this process is the boom in Jewish festivals throughout the country that crystallized in the late 1980s. Such festivals have been taking place in large cities such as Warsaw (Festival of Jewish Culture: The Warsaw of Singer),[8]  Łódź (Festival of Four Cultures, and Yiddish Culture Festival),[9] Poznań (Tzadik Poznań Festival),[10] Wrocław (Simcha Festival),[11] and Białystok (Zachor Festival).[12] They are also organized in smaller towns such as Chmielnik and Szydłów,[13] Leżajsk (Festival of Jewish Culture, “Kwitełech”),[14] Szczekociny (Yahad-Together Szczekociny Festival of Jewish Culture),[15] and Włodawa (Festival of Three Cultures).[16]

Members of local political and cultural elites take upon themselves the role of enthusiastic and dynamic organizers and supporters of these events that by now in some localities have become an annual affair, celebrating the multiethnic past and commemorating its loss, the disappearance of the Jewish community during the Holocaust from the local landscapes. The organizers of these events invite former Jewish inhabitants and their families from the West and Israel as honored guests, and stress the Jews’ contribution to the cultural and economic development of the area.

For example, the official announcement of the Rymanów Encounter Society for 2008 states:

On August 13, 2008 is the 66th anniversary of Rymanów ghetto liquidations [sic]. On this day, 66 years ago one of the oldest and most creative Jewish communities in Poland ended its existence. On August 12 and 13 August 2008, “Rymanów Encounter” Society wishes to commemorate Rymanów Jews by symbolic and unconventional activities…. Former inhabitants of Rymanów as well as their Israeli, American and European families are going to be invited.[17]

Of course, not all the large and small towns in Poland where Jewish life thrived before World War II have now unanimously embarked on the project of celebrating its Jewish past. Among those that have done so, not all present the same high-quality artistic and educational programs aiming at eradicating the old, stereotypical images of the Jews and disseminating profound reflections about the Holocaust and its consequences for the region. Because of their popular, mass-culture nature, these festivals inevitably do not lack kitschy, commercial, and poor-quality artistic events.[18] In that sense they do not differ from any other popular-culture festivals organized in the country.

However, what is more troubling is that some of these small towns possess dark histories that directly and profoundly clash with the idea of commemorating and honoring the Jewish inhabitants murdered during the Holocaust. Chmielnik, a small town in Kielce County, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship in Central Poland, has recently become a battlefield of celebrations and commemorations of the Jewish past on the one hand, and on the other, of the local Polish heroes who fought in the underground units of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) during World War II.[19] Some of these local heroes, whose offspring are often today the driving force behind commemorating their parents’ “heroic wartime past,” were killers and denouncers of the Jews during the Holocaust. Can one commemorate the Jewish past and the local murderers of Jews in the same town? Is this possible? Is this moral? For the locals, these are profound and challenging questions that prompt heated discussions and inevitably lead to sharp disagreements among the local elites and the community at large, dividing them into those who condemn the wartime crimes against Jews, those who view the Jews as an obstacle to honoring “good Poles”’ wartime patriotic deeds, and those who do not care much about the wartime history of their town.

The undoubted dramatic recent change in making dead and living Jews into a “hot item” in mainstream political and cultural spheres, and the public visibility of the “remembering to remember” mode, has even raised feelings of envy or resentment among individuals belonging to other small present-day minorities in Poland. In an interview to Gazeta Wyborcza, the main liberal newspaper, Mamadou Diouf, a Polish-based journalist born in Senegal somewhat complains that these days, anti-Semitic utterances have been disappearing from the public sphere because of the imposition of political correctness, whereas racist remarks are still common.[20] However, ethnic Polish critics, including a respected poet of the Solidarity movement of the 1980s, Jarosław Marian Rymkiewicz, take a different stance toward the political transformation of attitudes towards Jews. That stance is deeply rooted in pre-1939 anti-Semitic imagery. Rymkiewicz tacitly suggests that the state-sponsored interest in Jews is one of the clear signs that Poles, meaning “true Poles,” no longer govern the country.[21]

Some supporters of the main right-wing conservative party Law and Justice (PiS), headed by Jarosław Kaczyński, express similar sentiments during their demonstrations against the present liberal government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Neo-fascist, racist, and extreme ethnonationalist groups and organizations articulate these sentiments in the most radical fashion using slogans such as “Here is Poland, not Israel,” “We do not apologize for Jedwabne,” “Jews were easily perishable [during the Holocaust],” and “Poland only for the white people.”

The novel positive reevaluation of the role of Polish Jews in national politics, culture, and economy is definitely a postcommunist phenomenon. Before the political and economic transformation of the country that began in 1989, only a small minority of public intellectuals, writers, and politicians of a liberal bent advocated a positive assessment of Polish Jews, their contributions, and their heritage in the development of the Polish nation-state throughout the centuries. This new reconceptualization is rooted in two different approaches that correspond with two of the dimensions of memory, “remembering to benefit” and “remembering to remember” respectively. Not only do they interact with each other, but in some instances become closely interwoven.

First, the pragmatic desires of Polish politicians to rebuild the state economy and advance economically and culturally are the driving force behind the new recasting of Jews, which serves as a proof of endorsement of Western- style capitalist culture. Current political elites have realized that praising the lost multiethnic past and commemorating the Holocaust are the key means to gain respectability and visible international status in the West, and an effective way to show that the country today is free of its past anti-Semitic and xenophobic traditions, and ready to forge a new chapter in the history of ties with Israel, the Jewish Diaspora, and Jews at home. Perhaps no one has articulated this position as eloquently as Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski in his February 2011 interview to Adar Primor of the Israeli daily Haaretz. Asked about the reasons for the current renewal of Jewish culture in Poland, Sikorski invoked free Poland’s “return to its natural self:”[22] the return to the tradition of tolerance that Poles are very proud of.

Second, the new reconceptualization of Polish Jews stems from a genuine nostalgia for the multiethnic past expressed by enthusiastic individuals, mainly those who are regarded or regard themselves as “virtual Jews”[23] or “the self-proclaimed carriers of the lost East-European Jewish civilisation.”[24] One of these is Janusz Makuch, director of the highly successful annual international Jewish Festival in Cracow, who proclaimed in May 2007:

People have to realize the dimensions of the enormous evil that was done here and understand that it is important to cleanse themselves of it. The festival creates a confessional space that should help people realize what happened here and what we have lost. We have to ask ourselves the question why we lost it, what our guilt is, what our Polish complicity is in the fact that this Jewish world is not only gone, but will never return.[25]

 Scene 2: Jews as “Good Luck Charms”

The positive reevaluation of the formerly negative stereotypes of Jews, such as the enemy of the nation’s economy and its people, is one of the most striking features of the novel reconceptualization of the Jewish past. Here, the negative stereotype of the Jew as a shrewd moneymaker has been transformed into the positive stereotype of the Jew as a prosperous and effective businessman, and as such is in vogue—as something Poles should imitate so as to succeed in life. For that reason, tiny plastic figurines of “exotic” traditional Polish Jews belonging to the pre-1939 world, holding one Polish grosz for good luck, and mass-produced paintings and drawings of elderly Orthodox Jewish male figures are popular items. These are presented as gifts at private family celebrations, and in certain circles are also a “must item” to be displayed by private business owners.[26]

This trend has even given a rise to a new group of Polish artists who specialize in painting the “Jew for good luck.”[27] Some of these artists of younger generations display a lack of knowledge about the past; others, belonging to older generations, are aware of the past negative connotations of the word Jew but understand that this does not seem relevant to the current demands of the market. For them, the production of “good luck Jewish charms” is the right response to the demand of a new growing clientele, and an opportunity to make a living. Their kitschy works become expressions of the new belief that having Jews around, even in a symbolic sense, can bring material wealth and success in life.

This is articulated in a saying: “A Jew at home, money in a pocket” (“Żyd w sieni, pieniądz w kieszeni”), which some makers of “good luck Jewish charms” use in their artistic works as a leitmotif. Herein kitsch, and reinforcing rather than erasing negative stereotypes, are unavoidable. Not that this positive spin on old, strongly anti-Semitic stereotypes is a uniquely Polish development. It also takes place in other countries of postcommunist Eastern Europe such as Romania.[28]

Interestingly, this postcommunist East European development corresponds with recent growing interest in Jews in a culturally and historically different geographical zone, namely, Southeast Asia, characterized by its own specific history of relations with Jews and its own specific stereotypes and beliefs about them. The current fascination with Jews and Judaism in that region springs from the belief that Jews are ultra-intelligent people who excel in intellectual and material spheres. Hence it is thought that diligent study of Judaism and maintaining contacts with Jews can lead to great careers and material success. This fascination with Jews takes the form of serious study of the Talmud—the new Southeast Asian bestseller, already taught in some primary schools in South Korea.[29] Of course, unlike in Eastern Europe, this keen interest is not burdened by the dark past of the Holocaust period.

Scene 3: Grassroots Commemorative Projects

Since the mid-2000s, Poland has witnessed a proliferation of festivals of Jewish culture and of spontaneous, grassroots initiatives organized by local priests and history teachers to commemorate and remember vanished local Jewish communities in cities, towns, and villages all over the country. Various social, alternative groups and individuals have become engaged in maintaining abandoned and devastated Jewish cemeteries and placing commemorative plaques in areas and on the buildings known as Jewish before 1939. The number of such initiatives that belong to the “remembering to remember” dimension is difficult to assess, but it is definitely on the increase.[30]

Primary-school children and secondary-school youth are involved through actions such as cleaning neglected local Jewish cemeteries with the authorization of the Jewish community. Given that the number of Jewish cemeteries in Poland alone is estimated at twelve hundred and that many of these are located outside the areas of the eight restored Jewish communities, this is a highly desirable project of preserving Jewish material culture. High school students are also engaged in collecting information about vanished Jewish communities, and writing essays about the multicultural world that their grandparents were the last generation to experience personally.[31]

The relationships and intersections between these individual memorialization projects and the broader public memory of the Holocaust form a subject that merits an entire study on its own. Though at present there is no data to evaluate the extent to which these projects have influenced the historical consciousness and memory of the young participants, the fact of participation itself represents a significant change and a rupture from the communist past.

In 2009 an unusual grassroots initiative called Atlantyda, aimed at salvaging traces of the multicultural past including Jewish material culture, was organized by Captain Artur Cyrylik, a policeman from Hajnówka in northeastern Poland.[32] Thanks to his initiative, prisoners cleaned and restored five Jewish cemeteries in Jedwabne, Łomża, Narew, Narewka, and Zambrowo in the region, where the worst instances of anti-Jewish violence had taken place in the summer of 1941. Most recently, Fundacja Ochrony Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego (The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland), which was set up in 2002, decided to emulate this local initiative and transform it into a national project.[33] The prison authorities hope that the participation of prisoners in this initiative will improve the image of Polish prisons and teach the prisoners respect for other cultures and religions.

Scene 4: The New Recasting of the Christian Polish Rescuers

Another recent development is the boom of interest in Christian Polish rescuers, which is influenced by two contradictory cultural trends. On the one hand is the desire to participate in the new Europe through democratic- citizenship education and a new investigation of the past embedded in critical history writings. On the other hand are older patterns of thinking about and manipulating rescuers for particular political, social, and moral aims. Thus, here “remembering to remember” and “remembering to forget” profoundly clash with each other.

In pre-1989 Poland, the subject of rescuers was a marginal one in public memories and commemorations of wartime heroism, and was skewed in history writings. In that era’s historiography concerning rescuers, the three dominant tendencies were to underscore the large number of rescuers, to downplay or ignore the low societal approval of rescue activities, and not to differentiate among the various categories of rescuers, protectors, and helpers and their motivations.

Throughout the entire communist period the subject of rescuers was usually brought up, not because of its intrinsic cognitive and moral merits, but predominantly to defend the good name of Poles and to silence any commentaries showing Poles in a bad light. In this regard, by the 1960s and 1970s both communist elites in the country and anticommunist elites abroad reached a peculiar concurrence.[34]

This way of writing about rescuers has persisted in the postcommunist period and is part of the so-called polityka historyczna (historical policy) officially enforced in late 2005 by the then right-wing conservative government of twin brothers the late Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński. Though the adherents of polityka historyczna are preoccupied with more than the Jedwabne debate,[35] it was that debate and public attention to the dark aspects of Polish history that raised fears among conservative politicians, triggering the policy’s implementation. Jarosław Kaczyński articulated perhaps the most exaggerated version of these fears: “We are faced with a situation where in the next few decades or less World War II will be understood as two great crimes: the Holocaust, in which Poles had allegedly taken part, and the expulsion of the Germans [from Poland in 1945], in general, the outcome of Polish actions.”[36]

Historians and journalists practicing polityka historyczna[37] often cite the number of Christian Polish rescuers of Jews honored to date by the Yad Vashem Memorial Institute in Jerusalem—some 6,350—as a tool to normalize the dark past. Employing this data, they claim that Polish anti-Semitism and nationalism did not have much of a damaging influence on Polish-Jewish relations; they thereby seek to restore the image of Poles as heroes and martyrs solely.[38] They tend to focus on the histories of individual rescuers. What their writings lack is a more nuanced historical context and a discussion of Polish society’s hostility toward both the Jewish fugitives and their Christian rescuers.[39]

Nevertheless, by the mid-2000s, despite the ongoing manipulation of the subject by champions of polityka historyczna and right-wing nationalistic historians in the country and the Polish Diaspora, young Poles began to show a genuine interest in new scholarship on rescuers. This interest is not motivated by the notion of saving Poland’s good name at the expense of historical truth, but by a desire to understand the complexities of national history, including its uncomfortable and painful aspects. A growing number of works challenge the pre-1989 hegemonic historical interpretation of rescuers as a monolithic, altruistic group, and typical representatives of Polish behavior toward Jews during World War II. These works, as a rule, shift the emphasis of historical inquiry to the scope of the various crimes of ordinary Poles against Jews during and after the Holocaust.[40]

For example, the fourth volume of Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały (The Genocide of Jews: Studies and Materials), an academic journal of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research based in Warsaw,[41] chiefly examines paid rescuers, some who later denounced those they rescued, and some who then murdered their Jewish charges. Other works also discuss the history of paid rescuers and the uneasy relationship between Jewish survivors and these people,[42] and the complexities of wartime life for rescuers and survivors in specific localities.[43] Many of these works, no doubt inspired by Jan T. Gross’s writings, underscore what can be termed the “vast grey zone” of rescue activities.

In the second half of the 2000s, with the emergence of a new school of critical history about Polish-Jewish relations, Poland also developed new rituals of honoring Polish rescuers of Jews. One of the first such commemoration projects was initiated by the short-lived grassroots Polish-American Jewish Alliance for Youth Action (PAJA), established by two Americans, the late Dennis Misler and Zofia Zager. PAJA presented each of the living Polish Righteous a special “Tree of Gratitude and Honor” award and aimed to establish these individuals as heroes in Poland. Currently the Galicia Museum in Cracow continues PAJA’s work with rescuers and survivors.[44] Simultaneously, there were genuine calls for honoring rescuers by naming local schools after them so as to firmly establish them as Polish wartime heroes in the eyes of Polish youth. Sometimes, at least at the start, this idea has met with negative reactions and rejection from local political elites and communities.[45]

Conjuring up new collections of oral histories of rescuers and survivors is another development of the second half of the 2000s, contributing to the reinterpretation of the history of Polish-Jewish relations and Polish behavior toward Jews during the Holocaust. The Polish-English-German language publication, Światła w ciemności. Sprawiedliwi wśrod narodów świata (Light in Darkness: The Righteous among the Nations), is one such oral-history initiative.[46] A group of young enthusiasts from the Lublin-based cultural center Brama Grodzka – Teatr NN are the editors of this collection of sixty-one interviews conducted in the 2000s with Polish rescuers, their children, and other eyewitnesses from Lublin province and other southeastern areas. Like many other initiatives of Brama Grodzka, this work is dedicated to the commemoration of the memory of the Holocaust.

Unlike Brama Grodzka, which is a local grassroots project, the online project Polacy Sprawiedliwi-Przywracanie pamięci, established in 2007 by the Museum of Polish Jews Project in Warsaw, is a state-sponsored initiative to memorialize rescuers as Polish heroes and to gather their oral histories.  So far the organizers of the project have conducted three hundred interviews with rescuers who, for the most part, have already been awarded the Israeli Yad Vashem Award of the Righteous among the Nations.[47] The project’s leaders have also launched a number of Warsaw-based educational initiatives for building democratic civil society. The first in a series was called Żolibórz-ogród Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata (Żolibórz: The Garden of Righteous among the Nations). This workshop introduces the participants to the history of rescuers in Żolibórz, a pre-1939 socialist (PPS) neighborhood of Warsaw where a high number of rescue operations took place.[48]

The late Irena Sendlerowa (1910-2008) represents the best-known case of the current process of the “archeology” of rescuers. Sendlerowa (wartime nickname “Jolanta”) has virtually overnight become the most famous Polish rescuer of Jews in both Poland and abroad.[49] Her name is evoked in almost every public discussion of the subject and she has been transformed into a major feature-film “heroine.”[50] In 2007 the Polish Association of Child Holocaust Survivors (Stowarzyszenia Dzieci Holocaustu) and the American foundation Life in a Jar established an award in her name, Za naprawianie świata (For Repairing the World), which is annually bestowed on educators and public figures involved in building a civil and prejudice-free society in postcommunist Poland.[51]

Yet, until the mid-2000s, Sendlerowa was a little-known figure in public life, and was in fact first “discovered” outside of Poland by American schoolgirls from Kansas who wrote a play about her and her wartime deeds.[52] In 2007, however, one year before her death at the age of ninety-eight, representatives of the Polish state made efforts to nominate her for a Nobel Peace Prize, a diplomatic move aimed at audiences abroad to show that Poland today is free of ethnic and racial prejudice and that it pays tribute to those who rescued Polish Jews. As a part of this campaign, on 14 March that same year the Polish Senate honored her actions and those of the wartime Council to Assist the Jews, Żegota, for which Sendlerowa worked clandestinely. Poland’s “discovery” of Sendlerowa is also an aspect of building new diplomatic relations with Israel.

The broad positive public outcome of such commemorations in the country lies in the reaffirmation of rescuers’ wartime deeds as an honorable and heroic aspect of Polish wartime history. In right-wing and nationalistic public debate and writing, however, rescuers are used instrumentally as a counterbalance to the narratives of the dark aspects of Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust. The case in point is the family of Józef and Wiktoria Ulm from the village of Markowa in Rzeszów province. While Irena Sendlerowa, a member of a Polish socialist milieu, survived the war despite denunciations, on 24 March 1944 the Germans brutally murdered Józef and Wiktoria Ulm, all their children, and the Jewish fugitives they were hiding.[53] The right-wing politicians, historians, and journalists refer to the Ulm family as the chief example of rescuers who helped Jews for purely humanitarian reasons and ultimately sacrificed their lives for them. What they do not discuss is the situation of these rescuers in their community in Markowa and their actions in the context of the very mixed attitudes and behavior toward Jews in Rzeszów province as a whole.

The most recent attempt to counterbalance the “dark history” by underscoring and manipulating the Ulm family’s wartime biography—the undoubted shining positive history—is visible in the first reactions of politicians of the Law and Justice Party[54] and journalists from the right-wing Catholic newspaper Nasz Dziennik to the new controversial book by Jan T. Gross, Golden Harvest (Złote żniwa), written in collaboration with Irena Grudzińska-Gross. The book was published in Polish by the liberal Catholic publisher Znak in Cracow in March 2011. As in the case of Gross’s previous works, Neighbors and Fear, the chief right-wing conservative historian Marek Jan Chodakiewicz produced a counter-work, Heart of Gold or a Golden Harvest? in which he entirely rejected Gross’s arguments. Thus, Chodakiewicz and other right-wing pundits and journalists attempt to erase the dark past by focusing only on the “good past,” a characteristically factually and morally twisted, canny strategy applying the “remembering to forget” approach to the memory of Jews and the Holocaust.[55]

Scene 5: Remembering the Dark Past

In 2009 the eminent Polish historian Jerzy Jedlicki gave the term powerlessness (bezradność) to the difficulty of disseminating the accounts of the uncomfortable, dark aspects of Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust to broader segments of Polish society. At the same time, he regarded the process of self-critical assessments of the Polish national past as essential to Polish cultural renewal.[56]

Such a renewal process was activated by the Jedwabne debate of 2000-2002, triggered by the publication of Jan T. Gross’s book Neighbors in May 2000.[57] Gross’s stance in Neighbors resembles the optimistic, progressive position of American sociologist Robert N. Bellah, who argues that a national community is continually engaged in retelling the constitutive narratives of its collective history. “If the community is completely honest,” Bellah writes, “it will remember stories not only of suffering received but also of suffering inflicted—dangerous memories, for they call the community to alter ancient evil.”[58] Thus, Neighbors set out a definite countermemory to all narratives of the accepted canon of remembering the Holocaust, Polish-Jewish relations, and Polish society in World War II.

Today, in the post-Jedwabne-debate period, the Jedwabne massacre of Jews by their Polish neighbors on 10 July 1941 does not function only as a single painful historical fact, but has become a symbol of all dark aspects of Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust and its aftermath and even of the entirety of Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust, as noted by the sociologist Antoni Sułek.[59] Jedwabne stands at the core of the “remembering to remember” mode as a crucial historical event, one which Poles must constantly be reminded so as to understand that they were not just victims and heroes, but also perpetrators of crimes against others. In contrast, among the advocates of the “remembering to forget” mode, Jedwabne has become a symbol of Poland’s unjustified humiliation and dishonor. Hence their favorite slogan that they raise during demonstrations, public debates, and in journalistic writing is “We do not apologize for Jedwabne” (“Nie przepraszamy za Jedwabne”).[60]

Jedwabne inspires not only historians and scholars of other disciplines to further investigate uncomfortable aspects of Polish-Jewish relations, but also visual artists, writers, playwrights, filmmakers, and poets who adhere to the “remembering to remember” mode. For them, coming to terms with the uncomfortable past is part of constructing a new postcommunist collective biography and, thereby, creating a progressive and inclusive society.

These individuals, dissatisfied with the slow assimilation of or indifference toward the accounts of difficult aspects of the Polish-Jewish past, openly take upon themselves the role of the “Polish conscience,” a tradition rooted in the position initiated by the late literary critic Jan Błoński’s essay “The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto” (1987). In this groundbreaking article, Błoński raised difficult questions about the “insufficient concern” of Poles about the fate of Jews during the Holocaust, arguing that in part it stemmed from widespread anti-Jewish feelings in the prewar period. He suggested that the Poles had difficulty in reexamining their wartime relations with the Jews because they saw themselves as the primary victims of the German occupation, and were unable to acknowledge that they too were capable of wrongdoing.

In 1987 Błoński was a solitary voice, whereas the last decade also saw the emergence of a new literary and artistic school addressing vexing problems about national identity and responsibility for the wrongs done to others in the past. Marek Baczewski’s Nie używaj tego ognia (Do Not Use That Light) (2008), Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk’s Burmistrz (Mayor) (2009), Artur Pałyga’s Żyd (A Jew) (2008), and Paweł Demirski and Michał Zadara’s Tykocin (2009)[61] are good examples of recent plays inspired by the new moral resolve to uncover the skeletons in the national cupboard and engage the public with painful questions about “who we, the Poles are,”  “who we want to be,” and “how we behaved toward the Jews” and what are the implications of this behavior. Some of these artists are known in small milieus, while others have succeeded to trigger short-lived public debates and generate nationwide media interest.

For example, Tadeusz Słobodzianek is an accomplished playwright who in 2010 received Poland’s highest literary award, the Nike Prize, for his play Nasza klasa (Our Class), which was directly inspired by the Jedwabne massacre. In Our Class, which has already been staged in Warsaw, London, Toronto and Philadelphia and is soon to have a premiere in Boston, Słobodzianek paints a portrayal of the prewar, seemingly peaceful, biethnic community of young Catholic Poles and Jews of Jedwabne, and its devastating wartime and postwar fate. At the center of his exploration is the aftermath of the crime: the effect of the murders of the Jewish classmates on the lives of both the perpetrators and the survivors. In one of his interviews, Słobodzianek reveals why he wrote the play. His main concerns are with freedom, fate, and conscience. He declares that “he does not believe in clean conscience” and “in an ideology that gives us a weapon to humiliate and exclude others,” but in “pain, suffering and laborious building of self-knowledge.”[62]

Similarly Rafał Betlejewski, the controversial young performance and visual artist who is accused of self-serving agendas, declares on his recently created website titled “I miss you Jew,” Tęsknię za tobą Żydzie!,[63] that “for Poles the synonym of the word Genocide of Jews should be the word Loss” (“Dla Polaków synonimem słowa Zagłada powinno byc słowo Utrata”).[64] Betlejewski interprets his most controversial, unconventional cathartic performance, namely the burning of a barn in the village of Zawada near Tomaszów Mazowiecki in central Poland on the sixty-ninth anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre in 2010, as a visual representation of Poles’ role in the Holocaust. According to the artist, this symbolic burning, which was aired on the major Polish television channels, was meant to shock and cleanse and thus eradicate the vestiges of anti-Semitism in present-day Polish society.[65]

The works by artists such as Słobodzianek, Betlejewski, and many others can be interpreted as one form of protest of the lack of a broad reassessment of Polish national history with regard to the dark past of the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Though Jews constitute a numerically insignificant ethnic and cultural minority in contemporary Poland, attitudes toward the Jewish past and “the dead Polish Jews” are still considered a marker of the strength of Polish democracy among Polish public intellectuals, even when the discussion from time to time shifts onto the rights of the recently emerged Polish gay and lesbian community. This evaluation of the strength of Polish democracy on the basis of the attitudes toward Jews and other minorities is intellectually and ideologically rooted in the interwar period.

Scene 6: Splits over the Dark Past

From the pioneering public debates of the late 1980s and 1990s to the present, strong emotions and conflicting assertions have characterized the process of uncovering all aspects of the Polish dark past regarding Jews. As the latter half of the 2000s revealed, the archeology of the painful dark past has not yet been completed; nor has a broad public consensus been reached on the position of this uncomfortable past of Polish-Jewish relations in terms of Polish history, collective memory, and identity.

In political and popular culture and in history writings pertaining to the evaluation of the dark past, controversy and splits are endemic. A good example of such splits was the public reaction to a multiauthored article, “Hitlers europäische Helfer beim Judenmord” (“Hitler’s European Holocaust Helpers”), published in May 2009 in the German weekly Der Spiegel, which astutely discusses various official and nonofficial collaborators and voluntary perpetrators in the murder of six million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.[66] This well-researched article outraged certain mainstream political and journalistic circles in Poland. Right-wing conservative circles and individuals, including former prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński, the chief journalists of the major center-right newspaper Rzeczpospolita, the right-wing Catholic Nasz Dziennik, and officials of the Instytut Pamięci Narodowej (Institute of National Remembrance, IPN) all accused Der Spiegel of foisting guilt for the Nazi crimes onto others and declared that Germans had no right to refer to Hitler’s European helpers.[67]

Conversely, liberal Polish politicians and journalists, including former foreign minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld, himself a child Holocaust survivor, and Marek Beylin of Gazeta Wyborcza, did not find anything in the article either objectionable or promoting a relativization of German guilt.[68]

Another major split was evident in the reactions to Jan T. Gross’s Fear, a sequel to Neighbors, published first in English in the summer of 2006 and then in Polish in January 2008.[69] Fear analyzes a well-known massacre of Polish Jews in the early post-Holocaust period, the Kielce pogrom of 4 July 1946, and discusses the etiology of the early postwar anti-Jewish violence. The book became a subject of critical discussion by scholars such as the American Israeli historian David Engel and Polish historians such as Paweł Machcewicz and Bożena Szaynok who do not belong to the ethnonationalist school of history writing. The champions of polityka historyczna in the country, however, reacted to Fear with extreme hostility and unequivocally rejected it.[70]

IPN’s promotion of the Polish translation of Marek Jan Chodakiewicz’s monograph, After the Holocaust: Polish-Jewish Conflict in the Wake of World War II (Po zagładzie. Stosunki polsko-żydowskie 1944-1947), is illustrative of this profound dismissal.[71] Chodakiewicz’s work was promoted on the internet, in the press, and at meetings with the author, simultaneously with the launch of the Polish edition of Fear in January 2008. On 11 January 2008 in Warsaw, IPN organized the first official launch of After the Holocaust. In addition, the Polish Studies and European Studies Program at Columbia University invited and sponsored Chodakiewicz’s lecture “Poland in America’s Crooked Mirror: The Case of Fear,” which took place on 18 February that year.

The promoters of Po zagładzie conceived of it as a counterwork to Fear, one that would block its positive reception and unmask its alleged anti-Polish character. This strategy reveals the extent to which IPN under the chairmanship of the late Janusz Kurtyka (1960-2010) tended to politicize history as a discipline. This example of politicization of history might prove the biggest threat to the future of scholarly history writing in Poland and specifically to the integration of the dark history of Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust into Polish history and memory without historical bias and moral abuse. IPN, however, as an institution under the new chairmanship of Łukasz Kamiński who took the office in the summer of 2011, has shifted its position regarding the painful subjects of Polish-Jewish history: they are now part and parcel of IPN’s investigations without the top-down pressure of framing them according to the agenda of polityka historyczna.

These splits illustrate how, despite the boom of the memory projects focusing on Polish-Jewish relations, including new fact-based and sophisticated educational programs about the Holocaust[72] and impressive historical research conducted in the country and abroad, Poles still have difficulty integrating the dark past into the narrative of twentieth-century Polish history, historical consciousness, and public memory. During the communist period, scholars in Poland did not investigate the dark past and historical data on the subject was not publically known. In the present, this is no longer true; instead, many Poles seem to be looking at something but refusing to properly see it. Goethe’s saying, “Everyone hears only what he understands,” well captures how different groups and individuals, including professional historians, approach inconvenient dark historical truths. This is, of course, by no means an exclusive problem of Polish society.

Here the key issue is how much of the dark truth is “too much truth,” for Polish history, collective memory, and identity and how much of it can be channeled into the collective historical awareness and national mythology. In light of the current opposition to the full integration of the dark past of Polish-Jewish relations, rooted in psychological and cultural self-defensive mechanisms, the splits on this matter could become a fixed landmark of the process of memorialization of Jews and the Holocaust, and the mechanism of looking at something, but refusing to properly see it, could persist. This is the most likely scenario.

It might prove difficult for Polish society as a whole to integrate the dark past soon and fully. Reasons include the deeply shameful nature of this past, the great value Poles attach to national honor, and the emotive power of fundamental Polish national myths about World War II. As reflected in a number of polls throughout the 2000s, Polish society still sees the war as a central event embodying national heroism, pride, and victimhood.

According to the first poll, conducted a few months before Poland joined the European Union in early May 2004, only 3 percent of those who were interviewed felt ashamed about negative attitudes toward Jews in World War II.[73] None of the interviewees mentioned the name Jedwabne in their own statements, and the researchers concluded that the memory of the massacre has been embraced only by the Polish intelligentsia for whom Jedwabne represented a moral and historical problem.

The second poll, conducted on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, confirms the results garnered five years earlier.[74] In this poll, 73 percent of those interviewed were convinced that Poles had many reasons to be proud of their conduct during the war, including rescue activities extended to Jews, whereas only 17 percent said there were wartime events that Poles should feel ashamed of. Though many interviewees recalled Jedwabne, there was a common cognitive confusion about who were the perpetrators; many attributed the crime to the Germans and not to the local Poles. The first major antihero in Polish history whom survey respondents cited was the infamous communist leader Bolesław Bierut of the early postwar communist era. They perceived the wartime period as free of antiheroes and filled with heroes instead. This shows that Poles still consistently perceive the war as the embodiment of Polish collective martyrdom and heroism.

The recent report by Antoni Sułek, in which he discusses the polls about the Jedwabne massacre conducted respectively in 2002 and in July 2011 on the seventieth anniversary of the massacre, also confirms the results of the abovementioned polls. Sułek, who was the author of both questionnaires, concludes that Jedwabne as a historical event has not entered the long-term social memory, and that the respondents continuously show a great deal of confusion with regard to defining the perpetrators of the crime.[75] It is basically very hard for the Poles to accept that the history of their nation is not only full of heroes and victims, but also of perpetrators of crimes against others. Sułek argues that one of the main reasons for the persistence of such beliefs is the lack of public commemorations of other massacres of Jews that occurred in the summer of 1941 in northeastern Poland. He also contends that another reason for such a situation lies in the weaknesses of the Polish educational system: high school history textbooks that give Jedwabne proper attention are rather rare.

Yet, in his conclusions, Sułek optimistically points out that in another poll, conducted by the prestigious Centralny Ośrodek Badań Społecznych (CBOS) in 2010, 5 percent of respondents defined attitudes of Poles toward Jews during World War II as shameful events in national history, and 5 percent of respondents declared that they felt ashamed because of anti-Semitism. In this poll, the total number of respondents who felt ashamed of any events in Polish history came to 31 percent of all the interviewees. This shows that a change of historical awareness on national history and national mythology is possible, though the transformation is rather slow.

Finally, the recent poll studying intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination in Europe, published in Germany in 2011, offers different and rather troubling insights. In contrast to the previously discussed polls, this one posed a totally different set of questions, so it is impossible to make comparisons among them. According to it, 49.9 percent of Polish and 69.2 percent of Hungarian respondents believe that Jews in their countries have too much power. Some 72.2 percent of Polish respondents also believe that Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era, compared to 68.1 percent of Hungarian and 52.2 percent of Portuguese respondents. But, at the same time, 51.2 percent of  Polish, 57.3 percent of Hungarian, and 51.9 percent of Portuguese respondents agreed that Jews constitute enrichment for their culture.[76]

In Poland’s immediate future, then, there will continue to be three modes of remembering Jews and the Holocaust: “remembering to remember,” remembering to benefit,” and “remembering to forget.” This landscape of memory will continue to resemble a film with a multiple array of scenes—many fascinating and intellectually and morally uplifting, others confusing, hypocritical, intellectually dull, morally despicable, and opportunistic. No doubt this film will continue to fascinate and surprise its audience.

Joanna Beata Michlic is a social and cultural historian and director of the HBI (Hadassah-Brandeis Institute) Project on Families, Children, and the Holocaust at Brandeis University. Until December 2008 Michlic was associate professor of history and chair of the Holocaust and Ethical Values at Lehigh University. Her major publications include Neighbors Respond: The Controversy about Jedwabne (2004, coedited with Antony Polonsky) and Poland’s Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present (hardback 2006, paperback 2008, Polish translation 2012, Hebrew translation in preparation), and the forthcoming Bringing the Dark to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe (Nebraska University Press, 2012, coedited with John-Paul Himka). She is a recipient of many academic awards and fellowships, most recently the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe Visiting Fellowship, Spring 2012.

[1] Janusz Makuch, “The Jewish Cultural Festival, Kraków,” in Kate Craddy, Mike Levy, and Jakub Nowakowski, Poland: A Jewish Matter, proceedings of a symposium exploring Jewish life in Poland, marking the close of Jewish programming for Polska! Year, Warsaw, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, 2010, 131.

[2] Werner Bergmann, “Anti-Semitic Attitudes in Europe: A Comparative Perspective,” Journal of Social Issues 64, 2 (2008): 343-362. Bergmann’s quantitative comparative analysis is based on surveys commissioned by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) over the past two decades in several European countries

[3] For the study of a wide range of commonalities and differences in the reception of the Holocaust in all of postcommunist Europe, see John-Paul Himka and Joanna B. Michlic, eds., Bringing the Dark to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming).

[4] Padraic Kenney, A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe, 1989 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). On subsequent right-wing ideological interpretations of peaceful revolutions in Central Europe as “stolen” or “unfinished,” see István Rév, Retroactive Justice: Prehistory of Post-Communism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 304-336.

[5] Barbie Zalizer was perhaps the first scholar to use the term “remembering to forget” in her study Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Eye (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

[6] For a synthetic socio-historical study of the concept of the Jew as the “Threatening Other,” see Joanna B. Michlic, Poland’s Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2008, 2nd paperback ed.).

[7] See, e.g., the website Żydzi-Nonsensopedia, polska encyclopedia humoru, (accessed 10 October 2010).

[8] (accessed 16 December 2011).

[9] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[10] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[11] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[12] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[13] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[14] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[15] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[16] (accessed 9 June 2009).

[17] (accessed 18 December 2009).

[18] Some members of the position “remembering to remember” have lately become critical of the nature and dynamics of popular festivals of Jewish culture. See, e.g., Bogdan Białek, “Szary człowiek i Żydzi,” Tygodnik Powszechny, 4 July 2011,,65424,druk.html (accessed 12 December 2011). [Polish]

[19] On the battle of commemorations in Chmielnik, see Zuzanna Radzik, “Bohater i Żydzi,” Tygodnik Powszechny, 28 June 2011,,druk.htlm (accessed 12 December 2011). [Polish]

[20] Mamadou Diouf in an interview to Piotr Smoleński, “Mentalność Murzynka Bambo,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 25 January 2011,,75515,9000748.html?ssms_code= (accessed 26 January 2011). [Polish]

[21] Bogdan Wróblewski, “Poeta zaprasza na process,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 13 March 2011,,75248,9276209.html?sms_code= (accessed 15 March 2011). [Polish]

[22] Radosław Sikorski in an interview to Adar Primor, “Polish Foreign Minister to Haaretz: Nazi Germany carried out the Holocaust against our will,” Haaretz, 27 February 2011, (accessed 28 February 2011).

[23] On the concept of virtual Jewishness, see Ruth E. Gruber, Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,

2002); idem, “Beyond Virtually Jewish: Balancing the Real, the Surreal and Real Imaginary Places,” in Monika Murzyn-Kupisz and Jacek Purchla, eds., Reclaiming Memory: Urban Regeneration in the Historic Jewish Quarters of Central European Cities (Cracow: International Cultural Centre, 2009), 63-79.

[24] On specific unconventional ways of encountering and interpreting Jewish identity by non-Jewish Poles as an integral part of their own identity in a city such as Cracow, see Erica Lehrer, “Bearing False Witness: Vicarious Jewish Identity and the Politics of Affinity,” in Dorota Glowacka and Joanna Zylinska, eds.,  Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 84-109.

[25] Janusz Makuch in an interview to Magdalena Waligórska, 3 May 2007, “Fiddler as a Fig Leaf: The Politicisation of Klezmer in Poland,” Osteuropa: Impulses for Europe (2008): 232.

[26] “Zabobony w biznesie: Portret Żyda na szczęście?” by Mateusz Wesierski on the website of the Polish online banking paper; (accessed 11 October 2010) and the discussion triggered by this article. [Polish]

[27] See, e.g., the website of Barbara Rabiega, Portret Żyda na szczęście, (accessed 11 October 2010).

[28] Andrei Oisteanu, Inventing the Jew: Antisemitic Stereotypes in Romanian and Other Central – East European Cultures, foreword by Moshe Idel (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), particularly ch. 4.

[29] Tim Alper, “Why South Koreans are in love with Judaism,” 13 May 2011, (accessed 12 May 2011).

[30] “Common Ground: Polish Volunteers Caring for Jewish Cemeteries,” (accessed 18 December 2009); Zuzanna Radzik, “Miasteczka odżywają,” Więź 4 (2005): 31-42. [Polish]

[31] See the collage of interviews and historical information on the wooden synagogue in the Praga neighborhood in Warsaw that was destroyed by the Germans in 1939, prepared by pupils of Gymnasium 9 in Warsaw, Karta 43 (2004): 52-55 [Polish]; and on the website of the Centrum Żydowskie w Oświęcimiu, the page dedicated to the information about high school pupils from local schools who receive an annual award for writing on the subject “Jews in My Imagination,” (accessed 18 December 2009).

[32] For a report on the involvement of prisoners in cleaning Jewish cemeteries, see Rafał Kowalski, “Więżniowie posprzątają żydowskie cmentarze,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 10 August 2009,,76842,6914938,Wiezniowie_posprzataja_zydowskie_cmentarze.html (accessed 18 December 2009). [Polish]

[33] See the foundation’s website: (accessed 10 August 2009).

[34] On similar attitudes toward anti-Semitism in Poland and the Polish diaspora during the communist era, see Joanna B. Michlic, “Antisemitism in Contemporary Poland: Does It Matter? And for Whom Does It Matter?” in Robert Cherry and Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, eds., Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 155-156.

[35] The adherents of polityka historyczna tend to minimize the achievements of the leaders of the original Solidarity such as Lech Wałęsa, accusing them of collaboration with communist regimes before 1989. For a critical study of polityka historyczna and its impact on the Polish state and Polish historical culture, see Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, “Nędza polityki historycznej,” and Aleksander Smolar, “Władza i geografia pamięci,” in Piotr Kosiewski, ed., Pamięć jako przedmiot władzy (Warsaw: Fundacja im. Stefana Batorego, 2008), 27-30, 49-74 [Polish]; Paweł Machcewicz, “Debata o stosunku III RP do przeszłości. Dwa mity ideologów polityki historycznej IV RP,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 29 August 2008,,75515,5637705.html?sms_code (accessed 5 September 2008). [Polish]

[36] Jarosław Kaczyński’s statement in Gazeta Wyborcza, 9 and 10 February 2008, cited in Smolar, “Władza i geografia pamięci,” 53-54.

[37] On the full impact of polityka historyczna on the memory of the Holocaust in Poland between 2006 and 2010, see Joanna B. Michlic and Małgorzata Melchior, “The Memory of the Holocaust in Post-1989 Poland: Renewal – Its Accomplishments and Its Powerlessness,” in Himka and Michlic, Bringing the Dark to Light.

[38] For the old pre-1989 tendencies present in contemporary debate and historical writing, see, e.g., the website www.ŻyciezaŻ (accessed 8 June 2008) dedicated to the educational film project “Życie za Życie,” which deals with ten cases of Christian Polish rescuers. See especially the preface to the film by Jan Żaryn, an IPN historian. (These materials are no longer on the website.) See also Anna Poray-Wybranowska, “Naród bohaterów,” Nasz Dziennik, 9 October 2004 [Polish]; Dariusz Baliszewski, “Czy jesteśmy nacjonalistami?” Wprost, 2 April 2006, (accessed 18 December 2009) [Polish]; Marcin Urynowicz, “Liczenie z pamięci,” Tygodnik Powszechny, 30 October 2007,,1448231,0,547780,dzial.html (accessed 18 December 2009) [Polish], which claims that in Poland there were four hundred thousand Christian Polish rescuers of Jews. Urynowicz draws on Gunnar S. Paulsson’s numerical estimates of Jews who survived in wartime Warsaw. See the critical response questioning Urynowicz’s assumptions and methodology by Jacek Leociak and Dariusz Libionka, “Żonglerka liczbami,” Tygodnik Powszechny, 27 November 2007,,1454440,0,554745,dzial.html (accessed 8 June 2008). [Polish]

[39] Some contemporary memoirs of Christian Poles shed light on the complex historical context. See, e.g., Tadeusz Markiel, “Zagłada domu Trinczerów,” Znak 4 (2008): 119-146 with a postcript by Dariusz Libionka, “Zagłada Domu Trinczerów – refleksje historyka.” [Polish]

[40] For the latest examples of this history genre, see Jan Grabowski, Judenjagd. Polowanie na Żydów 1942-1945. Studium dziejów pewnego powiatu [Polish], and Barbara Engelking, Jest Taki Piękny Słoneczny Dzien …Losy Żydów szukających ratunku na wsi polskiej 1942-1945 [Polish]. Both works were published in February 2011 by the Warsaw-based Polish Center for Holocaust Research.

[41] Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały, vol. 4, published in 2008, includes major articles by Dariusz Libionka, Jan Grabowski, Grzegorz Berendt, Barbara Engelking, and Joanna Tokarska-Bakir. [Polish]

[42] See, e.g., Jan Grabowski, “Rescue for Money: Paid Helpers in Poland, 1939-1945,” Search and Research: Lectures and Papers  13, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 2008; Witold Mędykowski, “Sprawiedliwi, niesprawiedliwi? O złożoności stosunków pomiędzy ratującymi a ocalonymi w okresie Zagłady,” in Edyta Czop and Elżbieta Rączy, eds., Z dziejów polsko-żydowskich w XX wieku (Rzeszów: IPN and Uniwersytet Rzeszowski, 2009), 27-37. [Polish]

[43] See, e.g., Andrzej Żbikowski, ed., Polacy i Żydzi pod okupacją niemiecką 1939-1945. Studia i materiały (Warsaw: IPN, 2006), chs. 9 and 10 by Elżbieta Rączy and Anna Pyżewska, respectively [Polish]; Elżbieta Rączy, Pomoc Polaków dla ludności żydowskiej na Rzeszowczyznie, 1939-1945 (Rzeszów: IPN, 2008) [Polish]; Jacek Leociak, Ratowanie. Opowieści Polaków i Żydów (Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010) [Polish]; Małgorzata Melchior, Zagłada i tożsamość: Polscy Żydzi ocaleni “na aryjskich papierach” (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IFiS PAN, 2004). [Polish]

[44] The PAJA’s educational packet “Those Who Acted…” (Kraków: Polish-American Jewish Alliance for Youth Action, 2003).

[45] Paweł P. Reszka, “Szkoła im. Sprawiedliwych wśrod narodów świata,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 20 February 2006 [Polish]; and voices on the forum of Gazeta Wyborcza,,62,37195375.html (accessed 18 December 2009).

[46] Światła w ciemności. Sprawiedliwi wśrod narodów świata (Lublin: Brama Grodzka –Teatr NN, 2008) [Polish]. The book is available online:

[47] The interviews are made available online on the website

[48] “Pospaceruj po Żoliborzu śladami tych, którzy ratowali Żydów,”,95190,8334348, Pospaceruj (accessed 22 September  2010). [Polish]

[49] Anna Mieszkowska, Matka dzieci holokaustu. Historia Ireny Sendlerowej (Warsaw: Wyd. Literackie Muza, 2004) [Polish]  (Hebrew edition 2009, English edition 2011); and the documentary film by Mary Skinner, Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers, which was aired in the United States on PBS on 1 May 2011.

[50] Dzieci Ireny Sendlerowej by John Kent Harrison, 2009. The film is based on Mieszkowska, Matka dzieci holokaustu.

[51] See report, “Za naprawianie świata,” 28 April 2008, (accessed 5 September 2010).

[52] For an encounter of elderly Sendlerowa with the American schoolgirls in Warsaw, see the documentary film Lista Sendlerowej by Michał J. Dudziewicz. See also the DVD “Irena Sendlerowa,”  Narodowe Centrum Kultury, Multimedialne Wydawnictwo Edukacyjne, 2009.

[53] On the Ulm family, but without a nuanced historical context, see Mateusz Szpytma and Jarosław Szarek, Sprawiedliwi wśród narodów świata. Przejmująca historia polskiej rodziny, która poświęciła swoje życie ratując Żydów, 2nd exp. ed. (Kraków: Dom Wydawniczy Rafael, 2004) [Polish]; Mateusz Szpytma, The Risk of Survival: The Rescue of the Jews by the Poles and the Tragic Consequences for the Ulma Family from Markowa (Warsaw-Kraków: IPN, 2009).

[54] The report “PiS chce oddać hołd Polakom ukrywającym Żydów,Wprost, 7 March 2011, (accessed 7 March 2011). [Polish]

[55] See Małgorzata Rutkowska, “Prymitywna antypolska propaganda Grossa,” and accompanying testimonies of rescuers, “Godni synowie naszej Ojczyzny,” Nasz Dziennik, 5-6 January 2011, 20-21. [Polish]

[56] Jerzy Jedlicki, “Polacy wobec Żydów. Bezradność,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 26 June 2009,,97863,6762343.html (accessed 3 July 2009).

[57] For an analysis of the Jedwabne debate and an extensive selection in English of various voices that participated in it, see Antony Polonsky and Joanna B. Michlic, eds., The Neighbors Respond: The Controversy over the Jedwabne Massacre in Poland (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[58] Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1996). By comparison, on attitudes toward regret and shame in American and German culture, see the insightful article by Barry Schwartz and Horst-Alfred Heinrich, “Shadings of Regret: America and Germany,” in Kendall R. Phillips, ed., Framing Public Memory (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004), 115-144.

[59] Antoni Sułek, “Pamięć Polaków o Zbrodni w Jedwabnem,”  Nauka, 3 (2011): 39-49 [Polish]. Hereafter Sułek, “Pamięć Polaków o zbrodni w Jedwabnem.”

[60] The slogan “Nie przepraszamy za Jedwabne” is used in various discussions and debates, not necessarily directly related to the Jedwabne massacre. For an example of the latter, see the statement of the Polish TVP (Polish Television) journalist Jan Pospieszalski in which he refuses to apologize for allegedly accusing the late historian and statesman Bronislaw Geremek of becoming a communist agent in 1981 and thus betraying the first Solidarity movement. See the report “ Prezes przeprasza, Pospieszalski nie,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 14 December 2011,,75478,10815460.html?sms_code= (accessed 14 December 2011). [Polish]

[61] On the tradition of addressing vexing problems and coming to terms with the difficult past in Polish drama, see the interesting article by Krystyna Duniec and Joanna Krakowska, “Nie opłakali ich?” Didaskalia. Gazeta Teatralna, 103 (October 2011), [Polish]

[62] An interview with Tadeusz Słobodzianek by Juliusz Kurkiewicz, “Chcę komplikować odpowiedzi,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 6 July 2010, 13. [Polish]

[63] For a lively critical discussion of Betlejewski’s project, see Paula Sawicka, “Odczarować słowo Żyd,” Gazeta Wyborcza Warszawa, 25 March 2010, 2 [Polish]; Jerzy Bralczyk and Agnieszka Kowalska, “Odczarujmy słowo ‘Żyd,’” Gazeta Wyborcza Warszawa, 23 March 2010, 2 [Polish]; Dorota Jarecka, “Kicz to sztuka szczęścia. Prowokacja czy ściema,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 29-30 May 2010, 21. [Polish] On the project, see: (accessed 10 October 2010).

[64] See the website: (accessed 10 October 2010).

[65] See Betlejewski’s various interviews and report on the cathartic barn-burning on his website (accessed 12 October 2010).

[66] Georg Bönisch, Jan Friedmann, Cordula Mayer, Michael Sontheimer, and Klaus Wiegrefe, “Hitlers europäische Helfer beim Judenmord,” Der Spiegel 21 (18 May 2009): 82-92 [German]. An English version, “Hitler’s European Holocaust Helpers,” is available online:,1518,625824,00.html (accessed 8 December 2009).

[67] Der Spiegel reported on the negative Polish reactions in Jan Puhl, “A Wave of Outrage: Polish Reactions to Spiegel Cover Story,”,1518,626171,00.html (accessed 4 July 2009).

[68] Adam Daniel Rotfeld, “Rotfeld o publikacji w ‘Spieglu,’” Gazeta Wyborcza, 22 May 2009,,75515,6635503.html (accessed 25 May 2009) [Polish]; Marek Beylin, “Zatupać ‘Spiegla,’” Gazeta Wyborcza, 22 May 2009,,76842,6640733.html (accessed 25 May 2009) [Polish]. Beylin’s short text serves as an introduction to the Polish translation of the Der Spiegel article. See “Der Spiegel: zbrodniarze i pomocnicy,” (pełen tekst), Gazeta Wyborcza, 22 May 2009,,97849,6640582,Der_Spiegel__zbrodniarze_i_pomocnicy__pelen_tekst_.html (accessed 25 May 2009). [Polish]

[69] Jan T. Gross, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation (New York: Random House, 2006); idem, Strach. Antysemityzm w Polsce tuż po wojnie. Historia moralnej zapaści (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Znak, 2008). [Polish]

[70] For an analysis of the historical discussion about Fear, see Joanna B. Michlic, “‘The Past That Will Not Go Away’: The Polish Historical Debate about Jan T. Gross’s Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz (2006, 2008) and the Study of Early Postwar Anti-Semitism,” paper presented at the international conference “Between Coexistence and Divorce: 25 Years of Research on the History and Culture of Polish Jewry and Polish-Jewish Relations,” the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 17-19 March 2009.

[71] Marek J. Chodakiewicz’s monograph After the Holocaust was published in Polish translation as Po zagładzie. Stosunki polsko-żydowskie 1944-1947 by IPN in early 2008. See also Paweł Lisicki, “Żydzi, Polacy i przeszłość,” Rzeczpospolita, 11 January 2008, A2 [Polish]; Janusz Kurtyka, “Gross to wampir historiografii,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 10 January 2008 [Polish]; interview with Kurtyka in Rzeczpospolita, 18 January 2008: A16 [Polish]; Piotr Gontarczyk, “Daleko od prawdy,” Rzeczpospolita, 12 January 2008: A12-A15 [Polish]; Jan Żaryn, “Pogarda dla kontekstu,” Rzeczpospolita, 19 January 2008: A28-A29 [Polish].

[72] See, e.g., Robert Szuchta and Piotr Trojański, Holocaust. Program nauczania o historii i zagładzie Żydów na lekcjach przedmiotów humanistycznych w szkołach ponadpodstawowych (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Szkolne PWN, 2000) [Polish]; Robert Szuchta and Piotr Trojański, Holocaust: zrozumieć dlaczego (Warsaw: Dom Wydawniczy Bellona, 2003). [Polish]

[73] See the report on the poll: “Duma i wstyd Polaków – sondaż,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 17 September 2004,,34317,2289803.html (accessed 22 September 2004). [Polish]

[74] See Wojciech Szacki, “Poplątana pamięć o II wojnie,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 18 August 2009,,75248,6936373html?sms_code   (accessed 22 August 2009) [Polish]; Wojciech Szacki, “Sondaż. Nasza duma i wstyd,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 19 August 2009,,75248,6940133html?sms_code  (accessed 22 August 2009). [Polish]

[75] Sułek, “Pamięć Polaków o zbrodni w Jedwabnem,” 43-44.

[76] Andreas Zick, Beate Küpper, and Andreas Hövermann, Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination: A European Report (Berlin: Nora Langenbacher Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2011), 57-58.