Few places in the world carry as heavy a burden of history as Auschwitz. Recognized and remembered as the most prominent site of Nazi crimes, Auschwitz has had tremendous symbolic weight in the postwar world.
Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration is a history of the Auschwitz memorial site in the years of the Polish People’s Republic. Since 1945, Auschwitz has functioned as a memorial and museum. Its monuments, exhibitions, and public spaces have attracted politicians, pilgrims, and countless participants in public demonstrations and commemorative events.
Jonathan Huener’s study begins with the liberation of the camp and traces the history of the State Museum at Auschwitz from its origins immediately after the war until the 1980s, analyzing the landscape, exhibitions, and public events at the site.
Based on extensive research and illustrated with archival photographs, Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration accounts for the development and durability of a Polish commemorative idiom at Auschwitz. Emphasis on Polish national “martyrdom” at Auschwitz, neglect of the Shoah as the most prominent element of the camp’s history, political instrumentalization of the grounds and exhibitions—these were some of the more controversial aspects of the camp’s postwar landscape.
Professor Huener locates these and other public manifestations of memory at Auschwitz in the broad scope of Polish history, in the specific context of postwar Polish politics and culture, and against the background of Polish-Jewish relations. Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration will be of interest to scholars, students, and general readers of the history of modern Poland and the Holocaust.
In the summer and fall of 1998, ultranationalist Polish Catholics erected hundreds of crosses outside Auschwitz, setting off a fierce debate that pitted Catholics and Jews against one another. While this controversy had ramifications that extended well beyond Poland’s borders, Geneviève Zubrzycki sees it as a particularly crucial moment in the development of post-Communist Poland’s statehood and its changing relationship to Catholicism.
In The Crosses of Auschwitz, Zubrzycki skillfully demonstrates how this episode crystallized latent social conflicts regarding the significance of Catholicism in defining “Polishness” and the role of anti-Semitism in the construction of a new Polish identity. Since the fall of Communism, the binding that has held Polish identity and Catholicism together has begun to erode, creating unease among ultranationalists. Within their construction of Polish identity also exists pride in the Polish people’s long history of suffering. For the ultranationalists, then, the crosses at Auschwitz were not only symbols of their ethno-Catholic vision, but also an attempt to lay claim to what they perceived was a Jewish monopoly over martyrdom.
This gripping account of the emotional and aesthetic aspects of the scene of the crosses at Auschwitz offers profound insights into what Polishness is today and what it may become.
Historian Otto Dov Kulka has dedicated his life to studying and writing about Nazism and the Holocaust. Until now he has always set to one side his personal experiences as a child inmate at Auschwitz. Breaking years of silence, Kulka brings together the personal and historical, in a devastating, at times poetic, account of the concentration camps and the private mythology one man constructed around his experiences.Auschwitz is for the author a vast repository of images, memories, and reveries: “the Metropolis of Death” over which rules the immutable Law of Death. Between 1991 and 2001, Kulka made audio recordings of these memories as they welled up, and in Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death he sifts through these fragments, attempting to make sense of them. He describes the Family Camp’s children’s choir in which he and others performed “Ode to Joy” within yards of the crematoria, his final, indelible parting from his mother when the camp was liquidated, and the “black stains” along the roadside during the winter death march. Amidst so much death Kulka finds moments of haunting, almost unbearable beauty (for beauty, too, Kulka says, is an inescapable law).As the author maps his interior world, readers gain a new sense of what it was to experience the Shoah from inside the camps—both at the time, and long afterward. Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death is a unique and powerful experiment in how one man has tried to understand his past, and our shared history.
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