Narrating Jewish history in free walking tours – Warsaw as a case study
Telling history in guided city tours means negotiating it with the audiences on the ground. The narration does not only have to be anchored in the specific urban space, it also has to meet the tourists’ expectations, pre-assumptions, and images in order to be perceived as “authentic” and appreciated as a worthwhile experience. The case study looks at the mediation of Jewish heritage in Warsaw in a specific tour guiding genre: free walking tours. Analyzing the tours “Jewish Warsaw” by two providers, FREE Walking Tour Foundation and Orange Umbrella, I argue that it is not sufficient to focus on the various matters of simplification typical for “popular history”. Especially in Warsaw, a city lacking material traces of its rich Jewish life before WWII, material and performative impacts of the touristic practice have to be taken into consideration. Both presentations turn out to be highly contradictory in this regard: while the “tourist’s gaze” is mainly directed to well-known images of Jewish presence in pre-war and wartime Warsaw the visitors bodily experience the absence of Jews. One reason for that seems to be the paradoxical notion of “the authentic” which is attributed only to the lost heritage and its material traces. In large parts of the tours, the guides did not comment on the visible, tangible materializations of post-war Polish-Jewish history we did see but on the pre-war heritage we did not see.
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Narrating Jewish history in free walking tours – Warsaw as a case study. 2017: 76-91. https://archive.jpr.org.uk/10.5604/01.3001.0010.4077