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Author(s): Underhill, Karen C.
Date: 2011
Abstract: 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.
Date: 2016
Abstract: Focusing on three contemporary grassroots initiatives of preserving Jewish heritage and commemorating Jews in Belarus, namely, the Jewish Museum in Minsk, Ada Raǐchonak’s private museum of regional heritage in Hermanovichi, and the initiative of erecting the monument of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in Hlybokae, the present article discusses how local efforts to commemorate Jews and preserve Jewish heritage tap into the culture of political dissent, Belarus’s international relations, and the larger project of redefining the Belarusian national identity. Looking at the way these memorial interventions frame Jewish legacy within a Belarusian national narrative, the article concentrates in particular on the institution of the public historian and the small, informal social networks used to operate under a repressive regime. Incorporating the multicultural legacy of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth into the canon of Belarusian national heritage and recognizing the contribution of ethnic minorities to the cultural landscape of Belarus, new memory projects devoted to Jewish history in Belarus mark a caesura in the country’s engagement with its ethnic Others and are also highly political. While the effort of filling in the gaps in national historiography and celebrating the cultural diversity of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania overlaps in significant ways with the agenda of the anti-Lukashenka opposition, Jewish heritage in Belarus also resonates with the state authorities, who seek to instrumentalize it for their own vision of national unity.