This thought from the Polin museum yesterday really resonated with me, both because of my personal situation as a Jew of Polish Catholic descent, and because the fact that the statement even exists in such a framing typifies the ideological issue here: that it might not be expected, or accepted, for one to be both a Pole and a Jew. We have been spending a lot of time exploring the ideological work that the fusion of Polish and Catholic has done, and today in my class we discussed Anna Niedźwiedź’s analysis of Our Lady of Czestochowa and why this particular icon has become so intertwined with contemporary Polish identity, so much so that a piece of the plane which crashed in Smolensk in 2010 carrying Polish dignitaries including the President and his wife (all were killed) is embedded in one of her ceremonial jewel-encrusted „dresses”.
I have also been thinking a lot about the absence of Jews in Poland, the reluctance of many Jews to come to Poland, and the stereotype of Poles as antisemitic which is widespread in my experience, both in the United States and in Israel. In my course we have read about the way in which Israeli youth trips to Poland’s “death sites” serve the ideological purpose of cementing Israeli nationalism: Poland is death, hence Israel is life. This kind of dichotomous thinking is another version of the same problem unfortunately. If a form of antisemitism is perpetuated culturally in the absence of real Jews, and because there are hardly any real Jews to meet in Poland, Catholic Polish youth don’t have a chance to spend time with, become friends with and identify with Jews as fellow Poles, how can progress be made? How can the form of antisemitism which exists here (not among all Poles of course, but it is culturally available for political manipulation) be combatted? I wonder if the new Polin museum, filled with interactive, visually-appealing and extensive historical narrative, is capable of helping? Or will it inadvertently cement the idea of the “Jew” in a depersonalized form, relegated to history, and not part of present Polish society or identity? If we Jews want to combat antisemitism, will more of us need to spend real time here in an open and visible and curious and generous way (and not only to care for cemeteries)?
Yesterday during his lecture Michal Bilewicz elucidated the connection between different forms of group-focused enmity; that is, if you fuel enmity toward one group in the political sphere, you may fuel enmity toward all minority or otherwise marginalized groups. So, if you fuel Islamaphobia, as has been done by politicians and subsequent media coverage in Poland and the U.S. (recently in the context of not accepting „dangerous” refugees from Syria and other places where men, women and children are facing genocidal conditions), it can result in increased antisemitism. Bilewicz’s research bears this out in the Polish context. And so, two hours later when we visited Polin, this caught my eye:
What we are doing here is so important. It is hard work to unpack all of this, but I remain hopeful that education, exposure, and communication can help us „pass our light onto others” (the Wittenberg University motto) and heal the world (Tikkun Olam).