Is Poland’s Jewish Revival an Expression of Philo-Semitism, or Something Else?

March 13, 2020 | Sarah Glazer
About the author:

Only about 10 percent of Poland’s roughly 3 million Jews survived World War II, and most of those who remained in the country were forced out in 1968. But the annual Krakow Jewish Culture Festival is the largest in Europe, bringing in some 30,000 attendants in the course of a week—most of whom are Gentiles. Sarah Glazer examines the strange nostalgia that drives this interest:

“It’s fashionable to have a Jewish friend—the way it’s fashionable to have a gay friend,” Genevieve Zubrzycki, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan who is writing a book about the fashion for all things Jewish in Poland, was told by many non-Jewish Poles she interviewed. . . .“What they’re fighting for is a different kind of social order in Poland from one ruled by a right-wing party and the Catholic Church.”

But, more surprisingly, young non-Jewish Poles are becoming fascinated with Jewish culture at the same time that the country is experiencing an equally visible revival of open anti-Semitism. . . . The fact that the history of Jews in Poland was suppressed so long under Communism has also added to its mystique.

While the revival is accompanied by much philo-Semitic rhetoric, some Polish Jews themselves are skeptical:

“There are very few Jews left, so Poles took it on themselves to create this missing culture. They are just presenting [Jews] as folklore, as Fiddlers on the Roof,” said Anna Zielinska, . . . who advises an NGO that combats anti-Semitism. This “folk bubble,” she said, reinforces stereotypes. “That’s why [the festivals and so forth] don’t bear fruit in combating intolerance against Jews.”

Such festivals permit Poles to create a “self-serving and safe narrative about the Jewish past . . . and allow Poles to [portray] themselves as good people, loving Jews,” said Elzbieta Janicka, a literary historian at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Her book Philo-Semitic Violence? argues that this falsely harmonious version of history is a way for Poles to avoid responsibility for anti-Semitism and their role in the pogroms before, during, and after the Holocaust.

Read more on Airmail: