This week we have really been discussing religion in Poland, specifically Catholicism and Judaism. Catholicism is something that is deeply ingrained in Poland’s national identity, making Catholics the in-group here in Poland and Jews the out-group. In my time here I have seen this demonstrated in a few different ways, which I will discuss.
To get a better understanding of Catholicism here in Poland, we visited Jasna Góra in Częstochowa. Jasna Góra is extremely important to the Catholics in Poland, because it holds the icon painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, often referred to as the Black Madonna or Our Lady. This icon and monastery are extremely important to the Poles because they symbolize a deeper identity and suffering of Poland. The icon has slash marks on the face of Mary and this is partly to symbolize the suffering of Poland. One of the first things I noticed when I entered the monastery was just how extravagant the space was. It was an absolutely beautiful place and many people were there attending mass. It was clear that this is a place that is deeply cared for and extremely meaningful to the Catholics.
The day after our visit to Jasna Góra we visited a Jewish cemetery in Łódź. The cemetery was an extremely beautiful sight, but was extremely overgrown. It is overgrown to the point that one cannot see many graves or really just how large the cemetery is in general. We spent some time cleaning an area of the cemetery and then walked through looking at the Ghetto Field, which held 43,000 unmarked graves of Jews that had died in the Łódź ghetto. It was extremely gratifying to clean a portion of this space, because unfortunately there are not many Jews here in Poland, so they can’t properly care for the cemetery. The reason why I bring up these two spaces is because of the vast difference in how they are both attended and cared for. Jasna Góra is a sight that is clearly cared for by the in-group (Catholics) of Poland, while the Jewish cemetery is overgrown and some graves are vandalized or just not properly cared for, because the Jews are the out-group. There are not many Jews left in Poland and this has served to increase the in-group, out-group tensions. However, there is a Jewish revival that is occurring here and it will be beneficial to rebuild the Jewish culture here.
We have been spending time discussing what these different spaces mean to different groups and the significant impacts of these distinctions. It is my sincere hope that the Jewish revival will continue here in Poland to decrease the in-group and out-group tensions that are present.