chapter  7
Memories of Jews and the Holocaust in Postcommunist Eastern Europe: The Case of Poland
Pages 29

This chapter considers the representations of Jews and the Holocaust in postcommunist Poland from the year when the public debate about the Jedwabne massacre of 10 July 1941 culminated in the publication of the forensic report of the Institute of National Memory until 2011. The debate about Jedwabne was the most profound and the longest on any historical issue in Poland since the political transformation of 1989. The almost constant preoccupation with all things Jewish and the Holocaust in the realm of national discourse about ‘who we are’ and ‘who we wish to be’, makes Polish society stand out among the postcommunist countries. This situation has prompted some individuals in Poland involved in memory work to claim that the country is a unique state in Europe with regard to the ‘recovery’ and commemoration of the Jewish past: ‘Poland has been one of the few countries in Europe-perhaps the only one-to confront its own past systematically’.1 Similarly to Janusz Makuch, other dedicated activists of the Polish-Jewish Dialogue as well as Polish diplomats and official authorities regularly utter corresponding statements at the openings of international conferences and symposia in the country and abroad dedicated to Polish-Jewish and PolishIsraeli matters. Some foreign journalists, pundits and descendants of Polish Jewry also offer an enthusiastically optimistic interpretation of the current memory project of Jews and the Holocaust in Poland. This position, no doubt, focuses on the most positive changes in the public memory of Jews and the Holocaust that have taken place in the country over the last decade or so. However, it does not take into account the eruptions of conflicting memories of Jews and the Holocaust, nor does it pinpoint that some of this memory work is and remains in practice pretty problematic. Notwithstanding many significant, positive developments, we cannot ignore the simultaneous presence of coinciding and conflicting memories of Jews and the Holocaust. Only when we analyse the conflicting memories side by side do we gain a deeper insight into the complexities and the entire spectrum of this memory project in Poland and into the general problem of how conflicting historical memories work in the present.