The first account of the August Trials, in which postwar Poland confronted the betrayal of Jewish citizens under Nazi rule but ended up fashioning an alibi for the past.When six years of ferocious resistance to Nazi occupation came to an end in 1945, a devastated Poland could agree with its new Soviet rulers on little else beyond the need to punish German war criminals and their collaborators. Determined to root out the “many Cains among us,” as a Poznań newspaper editorial put it, Poland’s judicial reckoning spawned 32,000 trials and spanned more than a decade before being largely forgotten.Andrew Kornbluth reconstructs the story of the August Trials, long dismissed as a Stalinist travesty, and discovers that they were in fact a scrupulous search for the truth. But as the process of retribution began to unearth evidence of enthusiastic local participation in the Holocaust, the hated government, traumatized populace, and fiercely independent judiciary all struggled to salvage a purely heroic vision of the past that could unify a nation recovering from massive upheaval. The trials became the crucible in which the Communist state and an unyielding society forged a foundational myth of modern Poland but left a lasting open wound in Polish-Jewish relations.The August Trials draws striking parallels with incomplete postwar reckonings on both sides of the Iron Curtain, suggesting the extent to which ethnic cleansing and its abortive judicial accounting are part of a common European heritage. From Paris and The Hague to Warsaw and Kyiv, the law was made to serve many different purposes, even as it failed to secure the goal with which it is most closely associated: justice.
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.
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