Yechiel WeizmanMay 26, 2022
Living Next to Poland's Material Jewish Traces After the Holocaust
Cornell University Press 2022
In Unsettled Heritage: Living Next to Poland's Material Jewish Traces After the Holocaust (Cornell UP, 2022), Yechiel Weizman explores what happened to the thousands of abandoned Jewish cemeteries and places of worship that remained in Poland after the Holocaust, asking how postwar society in small, provincial towns perceived, experienced, and interacted with the physical traces of former Jewish neighbors.
After the war, with few if any Jews remaining, numerous deserted graveyards and dilapidated synagogues became mute witnesses to the Jewish tragedy, leaving Poles with the complicated task of contending with these ruins and deciding on their future upkeep. Combining archival research into hitherto unexamined sources, anthropological field work, and cultural and linguistic analysis, Weizman uncovers the concrete and symbolic fate of sacral Jewish sites in Poland's provincial towns, from the end of the Second World War until the fall of the communist regime. His book weaves a complex tale whose main protagonists are the municipal officials, local activists, and ordinary Polish citizens who lived alongside the material reminders of their murdered fellow nationals.
Unsettled Heritage shows the extent to which debating the status and future of the material Jewish remains was never a neutral undertaking for Poles—nor was interacting with their disturbing and haunting presence. Indeed, it became one of the most urgent municipal concerns of the communist era, and the main vehicle through which Polish society was confronted with the memory of the Jews and their annihilation.
Amber Nickell is Associate Professor of History at Fort Hays State University, Editor at H-Ukraine, and Host at NBN Jewish Studies, Ukrainian Studies, and Eastern Europe.