Polin Studies in Polish Jewry: v. 13: Holocaust and Its Aftermath

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Few issues have divided Poles and Jews more deeply than the assessment of the Nazi genocide in Poland, in which 90 per cent of Polish Jewry perished. Many Jewish historians have claimed that the Polish government's attempt to undermine the economic viability of the Jewish community after the death of Pilsudski in 1935 made Hitler's task easier. On this view, the persistence of the economic crisis in the late 1930s, the example of Nazi Germany, and the attempt by some members of the Polish government to widen their power base by wooing young antisemitic zealots of the nationalist opposition all contributed to a growing mood of antisemitism; in consequence, most Poles were unwilling during the Nazi occupation to see Jews as fellow-citizens. Many Polish historians, in contrast, have denied the connection between the pre-war and wartime situations; they stress that the harshness of the Nazi occupation led to death for many Poles, and that hiding a Jew was a capital offence. The core of this volume deals with these still controversial issues, broadening the perspective to include several articles on Polish attitudes to the nearly 300,000 Jews who tried to resettle in Poland after the war and the ensuing pogroms. Other articles include a translation of the powerful but little-known testimony of Rudolf Reder, one of a handful of Belzec survivors; a discussion of Holocaust victims as martyrs, with special reference to religious Jews; and a description of the Auschwitz Museum today and its plans for the future. In addition, the volume looks more generally at anti-Jewish stereotyping in Poland in the twentieth century. It reports an important debate which took place in 1998 on the character and strength of antisemitic feeling there; contains an eye-witness account of the consequences of the 1906 pogrom in Siedlce; and covers a number of other topics, including Polish-Jewish literary interaction, an interview with the Polish Jewish historian Marian Malowist, and biographical studies of philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel and of Ludwik Rajchman, the founder of UNICEF. There are also the regular Review Essay and Book Review sections.