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Pawel Dobrosielski

“The Jew with a Coin” as Transgenerational Vernacular Practice with New Meaning

This presentation will be devoted to the vernacular image of the Jew with a coin and its connection to systemic academic and media discourses relating to anti-Semitism. The paper analyzes the historical roots of this practice, placing it in the context of historical prejudices, as well as in contemporary debates about Poles’ attitudes towards Jews during and after the Second World War. Preliminary results of the author’s quantitative research, which aim to establish the extent and exact forms of the practices related to the image of the Jew with a coin, will be presented. The paper will also demonstrate how the proposed concept of vernacular culture sheds new light on traditional interpretations of these phenomena, at the same time reassessing the results of quantitative research. This familiar image, well-established within the sphere of traditional stereotypes and superstitions, can be perceived as a reaction to the feeling of alienation that results from the level of complexity of the Polish Holocaust discourse—at the same time taking over its general sense and reversing its meaning. Thus, the above practice can be realized regardless of the awareness of its own alienation. It questions the asymmetry between the specialized public discourse and the common reception of it. Emphasis on the image itself simplifies the multi-layered debate on stereotypes, capitalism, and anti-Semitism, focusing solely on the material shape of the image.

Pawel Dobrosielski is an anthropologist, philosopher, and English language translator at the Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw. His doctoral dissertation, “The Polish Reception of the Works of Jan Tomasz Gross from the Perspective of the Anthropology of Memory,” will be published in 2017. His articles have been published in Przeglad Humanistyczny, Kultura Wspolczesna, Zaglada Zydow, Studia i materialy, and in collective volumes. He is a member of various Polish and international research teams focusing on anthropology of memory, traces of the Holocaust in Polish cultural imaginary, and Polish vernacular culture in comparative perspective, among others. His academic interests revolve around discourse analysis and collective memory.