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Next Year in Drohobych: On the Uses of Jewish Absence


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In Israeli director Yael Bartana’s 2007 film Mary Koszmary—meaning “Bad Dreams” or “Nightmares”—a young Polish politician delivers a resounding speech to an empty, crumbling, communist-era Stadion Dziesięciolecia in Warsaw. The speech, he says, is an appeal: “This is a call. . . . It is an appeal for life. We want three million Jews to return to Poland, to live with us again. We need you! Please come back!” This article considers the powerful and perhaps disturbing premise of these lines and explores their possible meanings in a contemporary Polish context. What can it mean for Poles and Polish culture to need Jews—and in particular, to need those Jews who can never return? The complex phenomenon of Jewish memory in Poland and Eastern Europe cannot be contained within specific, present-day borders—whether of geography or of academic discipline: similar dynamics to those Bartana has identified in Poland exist throughout the region. Thus, against the background of Bartana’s film, the article considers the growing phenomenon and importance of local Jewish festivals in Poland and present-day Ukraine, focusing in detail on two specific festivals: the annual festival “Encounters with Jewish Culture,” held in Chmielnik, Poland, and the biannual Bruno Schulz Festival in Drohobych, Ukraine. The analysis explores ways that the memory of Polish Jews—and more specifically the figure of the absent Polish Jew—can function as a central element in the construction of new, communal Polish and Ukrainian narratives since the fall of Communism.



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Bibliographic Information

Underhill, Karen C. Next Year in Drohobych: On the Uses of Jewish Absence. East European Politics & Societies. 2011: 581-596.  https://archive.jpr.org.uk/10.1177/0888325410388270