CREES Noon Lecture. "Enlightened Memory? On Remembering the Jewish Past in Contemporary Germany and Poland."
Since the early 1980s, Germany and Poland have both been home to profound debate and reflection on the loss of their Jewish populations. This explosion of the past into the present is visible in a variety of media –– print, film, music, and even food –– but it has been expressed most of all in the built environment. Across the region dilapidated synagogues and cemeteries have been restored, Jewish streets recreated, and Jewish museums built. Because Central Europe was the geographic epicenter of the Holocaust, few other areas of Europe have attracted as much global interest and experienced such intense reflection on the Jewish genocide.
After briefly surveying the postwar history of Polish, German, and Jewish encounters with the ruins of prewar Jewish life, this lecture will turn to considering a broad and fundamental question: What seems to be at stake in remembering the Jewish past in contemporary Poland and Germany? What is the purpose of remembering, if there is one? Of course, multiple answers come to mind to these questions, but this lecture will settle on one in particular, namely a political meaning invested in memory by many progressive memory projects in Central Europe: the idea or belief that memory ought to function as a project of civic enlightenment. This interpretation of memory, which Jürgen Habermas developed most thoroughly throughout the 1980s and 1990s, views remembrance as an important component to building pluralistic and tolerant democracies. This lecture will sketch out this conception of memory before discussing some of the key tensions that underlie it.
Michael Meng is assistant professor of history at Clemson University in South Carolina. His book, Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Spaces in Postwar Germany and Poland, appeared in 2011 with Harvard University Press. A co-edited volume with Erica Lehrer, Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland, will be published this fall by Indiana University Press.
Sponsors: Center for Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (CREES); Center for European Studies (CES); Copernicus Program in Polish Studies; Frankel Center for Judaic Studies