BASEES Annual Conference 2022

Jewish memory work in the 1950s and 1960s Poland. Mapping the efforts to remember the Holocaust

Fri8  Apr02:00pm(20 mins)
Linnett Room


Janek Gryta


Communist Poland is typically depicted as a state aiming to erase the memory of the Holocaust. The Jewish genocide largely took place on the Polish territories yet the few commemorations that were organised Polonised the genocide. They obscured the information about the victims and focused on the Polish helpers. At the same time, the country was not supportive of its Jewish minority. Synagogues were nationalized, cemeteries levelled, individuals expelled. The few impoverished organisations that were allowed to survive, existed on the Party concession. Yet, as this paper attests, successful efforts to commemorate the Holocaust were made from as early as the 1950s. Regional activists, members of the religious Congregations, created a network of memorials. Reaching out from regional centres and encompassing local sites of killings, those memorials challenged the Communist memory work. They marked the villages, towns and cities with references to the Jewish past. They have successfully prevented it from disappearing. The present paper brings to attention the agency of the regional leaders and places them in regional networks of influence, to understand how they managed to manoeuvre around the seemingly omnipotent Party-State. By mapping the memorials they have created, this research highlights the scale of the Jewish memorial project. It also challenges the existing interpretations of the Holocaust memory and nuances the position of Jewish regional leaders.