USHMM Summer Workshop on “Jewish Spaces” in Poland

L-R: Jonathan Webber (UK); Monika Murzyn-Kupisz (Poland); Robert Cohn (USA); Robin Ostow (Canada); Winson Chu (USA); Erica Lehrer (Canada); Slawomir Kapralski (Poland); Michael Meng (USA); Magdalena Waligorska (Poland). Not pictured: Diana Pinto (France).

In July 2010, CEREV director Erica Lehrer co-designed and facilitated, together with historian Michael Meng, a workshop at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Centre for Advanced Holocaust Studies on the post-Communist cultural politics of Poland’s Jewish spaces.

Since the early 1980s, Poland has been home to profound debate and reflection on the loss of its once large – and today minuscule – Jewish minority. Because Poland was the geographic epicenter of the Holocaust, few other European countries have attracted as much global interest and experienced such intense reflection on the Jewish genocide. This explosion of the past into the present is visible in a variety of media – print, film, music, and even food – but it has been expressed most of all in the built environment and the cultural meanings such physical heritage enables. Across the country, dilapidated synagogues and cemeteries have been restored, Jewish streets recreated, and Jewish museums built.

The two-week workshop – sponsored and funded by the Museum – brought together 10 international scholars (from Poland, France, the UK, Canada and the United States) to discuss the ways that a “Jewish” presence in both urban and rural landscapes has reemerged in tension and synergy with other remembered minorities, and in complex negotiation with at times divergent local, regional, national, and international actors and interests. The book project emerging from the workshop, tentatively titled Constructing Pluralism: Space, Nostalgia, and the Transnational Future of the Jewish Past in Poland and currently under review at a major US university press, will explore newly emerging forms of memory, pluralism, and nostalgia in post-1989 Europe.

Final public presentation of workshop findings

Final public presentation of workshop findings

Members of the group took a break to visit the Smithsonian's African-American-focused Anacostia Community Museum (L-R: Michael Meng, Erica Lehrer, Robin Ostow, Diana Pinto).

Center for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence