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Kamil Kijek

Facing Ashes and Rubble: Western Jewish/Polish Jewish Encounters and Transnationalism of Polish Jewry, 1945-50

Current public and academic discourse in Poland give disproportionate attention to the problem of allegedly “special” attitudes of Jewish Holocaust survivors to the new political system that was installed in Poland after 1945. The central category around which this discourse is organized is Zydokomuna (Judeocommunism). Thus, regardless if scholars dismiss it as merely an anti-Semitic stereotype or seriously engage in research to which extent it is “true” and to which it is “false”—they are still moving in the space of a rather essentialist discourse assuming a kind of ahistorical special predilection of Jews towards communism or other kinds of political radicalism. This paper aims to transcend this discourse by analyzing the generational socialization experience of Jewish youth growing up and coming into adulthood in the 1930s. This generation was defined by being the first to grow up in a modern nationalist Polish state. While its members were marked by a certain degree of acculturation and by their intimate knowledge and comfort with Polish culture, they were also involved in the development of Jewish nationalism in Poland and with modern Jewish transnationalism through various forms of connection with other important world centers of Jewish life such as the United States and Palestine. This generation, like all its other European peers, was also defined by growing up in an atmosphere of growing political radicalism and was characterized by highly modernist political and social imagination. Finally, young Polish Jews experienced the aggressive anti-Semitic political culture of the Second Republic, which was not limited to the 1935-37 pogroms in or to violence at Polish universities in the 1930s. This paper will juxtapose the socialization experience of that generation and the effect of the Holocaust and patterns of its survival (in Poland or in the Soviet Union) with various Jewish attitudes towards the new political system installed in Poland after 1945. By analyzing patterns of particular political consciousness, Polish cultural intimacy, and modern Jewish transnationalism and their function in post-Holocaust Poland, the presentation will show the complicated stances by which Polish Jews expressed their attitudes to a new political reality.

Kamil Kijek is assistant professor of Jewish studies at the University of Wroclaw. He was previously a Prins Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Jewish History in New York and a Sosland Family Fellow at the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. His forthcoming book, Dzieci modernizmu: wiadomosci socjalizacja polityczna mlodziezy zydowskiej w Polsce międzywojennej (Children of Modernism: Socialization and Political Consciousness of the Jewish Youth in Interwar Poland), is to be published in 2017. Kijek’s articles include: “Was It Possible to Avoid Hebrew Assimilation? Hebraism, Polonization, and the Zionist Tarbut School System in the Last Decade of Interwar Poland,” (Jewish Social Studies, 2016) and “Ha radicalism ha politi shel hanoar ha yehudibe shtetl polani beinmilhamot ha olam” (Political Radicalism of the Shtetl Youth in Poland between Two World Wars) (Yalkut Moreshet, 2013). Recently he edited (with Grzegorz Krzywiec) a special issue of Kwartalnik Historii Zydow, devoted to the problems of anti-Semitism in Poland from 1905 to 1939. His next project is entitled “Polish Shtetl after the Holocaust? Jews in Dzierzoniow, 1945-1950.”