HOMEPUBLICATIONSPublicationsThinking after Holocaust. Voices from Poland

Thinking after Holocaust. Voices from Poland

Dlaczego należy uczyć o Holokauście? "Thinking after Holocaust. Voices from Poland"

Ed. Sebastian Rejak

Warsaw-Cracow 2008

ISBN 978-83-7495-584-3


The Holocaust is an inherent part of twentieth-century history: it is the consummation of the policy of genocide, institutionalized and aimed at a chosen section of society, above all the Jews. It is also an inherent part of European history, and, to be more precise, part of the history of European states and nations, within which a deranged, totalitarian ideology came into being. It was this ideology that was responsible in the first place for the rise of National Socialism in Germany and for the formation of Hitler’s Third Reich on the ruins of the Weimar Republic. German and Italian fascism, just as other systems that copied them, are also part of Europe’s history, an expression of pathological irrationalism, extreme xenophobia and anti-humanitarianism.

More than sixty years after the end of the Second World War, the Holocaust is still a challenge for many academic disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, theology and anthropology. Scholars continue to seek answers to questions such as: How can we conduct meaningful academic research after the Holocaust? What limitations does my academic discipline come up against? How has the Holocaust influenced me as a researcher? What is, therefore, common to all scholars trying to relate intellectually and emotionally to an attempt to annihilate a whole people, the entire Jewish community? It is the fact that 1,500,000 Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust. It is the fact that the Holocaust took place because state-run institutions regarded one group of people as superfluous, undesirable and harmful, and sought to destroy themi with the full sanction of the law. It is the fact that the Holocaust, to a large extent, took place on occupied Polish territory (in view of logistics).

The main actors in the extermination of the Jews were state structures of the National Socialist Third Reich, as well as state institutions of many European countries politically dependant on Germany, including France, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, military formations of Ukraine and the Baltic states, and some citizens of occupied countries, including Poland. Our neighbors were killed in the Holocaust, people similar to us as well as those who differed from us by dress, language, religion and other cultural traits. The fact that the Holocaust took place on occupied Polish territory — the majority of European Jews inhabited these areas — marks the history of Poland and group identity of the Poles in a particular way. There is no getting away from this history.

The memory of the Holocaust and the academic thought that goes with it is necessary for Poland so that the Holocaust should never become merely a historical fact like the Napoleonic wars, and also because Poland needs profound democracy, wich is only possible in societies mature enough to include in their own historical narrative and within the scope of their own group identity the darkest pages of history.

The Shoah is part of the history that is still contemporary for us. The last few witnesses of those tragic events are still alive. Subsequent post-Holocaust generations are creating a new, now purely historical, memory of the genocide of the Jews. For them it is a tragic history lesson, in which a totalitarian negation of the values of the rule of law led to nihilism and collective pathology When a person’s origin, world outlook, religion, nationality or race is regarded as the embodiment of inferiority (i.e. an anti-value), and an entire class of individuals are excluded from society, civilization sinks into an anti-individualist, anti-personalist pathology of destruction. That is the moral message of the Holocaust, as a warning for the future.

As with every historical phenomenon, the Holocaust is subject to interpretation. It is important for these interpretations to be adapted at the methodological and axiological level to the specific nature of the events that they describe, and for them to be intellectually creative, provoking thoughts that are not limited by set patterns. This book is proof of the fact that these challenges are being addressed in Poland, and that inter-disciplinary thinking and teaching about the Shoah does exist and is developing here. These scholars are not afraid to ask themselves and their society some difficult questions. They examine the limitations of their own academic disciplines, and are capable of questioning established narratives and identities. In this book, scholars from various generations — among them a historian, a literary theorist who survived the Holocaust, a philosopher, an anthropologist, a sociologist, a political scientist, a theologian and a history teacher (co-author of a curriculum and a textbook on the Holocaust) — write about the extermination of the Jews as a subject for research.

Writing about the factors that justify the unique status granted to the Shoah by scholars, Daniel Grinberg claims that we are still living “in a world plunged in the shadow of the Holocaust”. The issues relating to this event are among the greatest problems facing academic research, and the debate can even prove dangerous, for — in view of the ubiquitous “pressure to conform” — “any word, at any moment, can turn against the scholars trying to prove their own innocence”. Michał Głowiński writes about the Holocaust as his own “fundamental sub-text of life”, and about overcoming his inability to talk about Jewish genocide. He shares with us his thoughts on literature as “a gateway to normality”, and also on the fact that “Holocaust experience” has not become a determining factor in his interpretations as a literary theorist and critic. Comparing existing Polish educational strategies, curricula and projects to do with education about the Holocaust, Robert Szuchta claims that after years of absence from the consciousness of Polish society, in present-day Poland it is no longer possible either to keep silent about the Holocaust or to falsify its history Roman Kuźniar reveals how the genocide against the Jewish community provided an impetus to establish the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Thinking after the Holocaust: Voices from Poland Human Rights and other conventions in defense of basic freedoms, and formulates some imperatives for international agreements arising from the challenges that the Holocaust poses to the concept of human rights. Małgorzata Melchior, whose research is devoted to Holocaust survivors, focuses on some questions asked by sociologists concerning thinking about humankind in the context of its ambiguous, multifaceted identity — after the Holocaust. In response to the question “Who are we, Europeans, after the Holocaust?”, Zdzisław Mach writes about the Polish need for a new way of articulating the nation’s relationship to the Holocaust, and draws attention to the defiance evident among the younger generation against set patterns of collective identity Cezary Wodziński, in turn, analyzing Hannah Arendt’s acclaimed work on the roots of totalitarianism and the Eichmann trial, demonstrates that “the heart of darkness”, “radical evil”, the manifestation of which were the death camps, still remains impenetrable and unfathomable, and that “the grammar of our thinking breaks down radically when confronted with this experience”. Sebastian Rejak shows both traditional and radical attitudes of theologians to the Holocaust, and also describes what the Shoah means to him, a Pole raised in a Catholic family — “a life-shattering existential and mental event”.

The history of the Holocaust calls for remembrance, and will always be with us. Since 1989, when the era of ideological amnesia and individual and collective oblivion came to an end, this history has demanded special attention. The present publication is a proof of that attention, and also of the need for academics to exchange thoughts on the Holocaust. It is also an expression of remembrance of an era of contempt for humankind, and a result of profound reflection on the essence of humanity.


Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs, PhD
Director of The Centre for Holocaust Studies, Jagiellonian University
Wiesław Kozub-Ciembroniewicz, PhD
Head of the Advisory Academic Council of The Centre for
Holocaust Studies, Jagiellonian University