Opening the Drawer

The Hidden Identities of Polish Jews

By Barry Cohen

Contributions by: Witold Krassowski

For the first time in a single volume, Opening the Drawer brings together illustrated profiles of three generations of Poles who discovered their hidden Jewish identity in often surprising ways. Drawing on interviews with child survivors of the Holocaust; the post-war second generation; and the post-Communist third generation, these voyages of discovery are not simply variations on a theme, but memorable depictions of unearthing long-buried family histories and secrets. They include the stories of an outstanding Catholic priest, a former anti-Semitic football hooligan, students, academics and renowned writers. Each generation has confronted a specific Polish environment which shaped their lives. Holocaust survivors were usually raised as Catholics, deprived of knowledge of their biological parents. Ironically some even grew up in anti-Semitic families. The Second Generation are frequently the offspring of dedicated Communists or leftists who shunned any kind of Jewish identification, and many discovered their roots in traumatic circumstances. Yet they have been resourceful in creating and taking part in new Jewish religious and cultural organisations like Limmud. Younger Poles are very much the product of the democratic society that emerged after the fall of Communism. Growing up in a more tolerant civil society, they were spared the challenges faced by previous generations, and were less constrained in developing and sharing their new identity. The profiles reveal the particular Polish contradictions in coming to terms with their upbringing, although not all embraced some form of Jewish identity, as some merely sought the secrets of their past while retaining their previous identity. In a sharp departure from the past, many Poles are expressing a deep, sympathetic interest in the phenomenon of emerging Jews by flocking to Jewish museums and cultural festivals. Until recently, Poland was regarded as a tragic land of ghosts where Jewish life had ceased to exist. But these wide-ranging profiles reflect a growing spectrum of communal activities that paint a different picture. *** Made up of contributions by the three generations of Polish Jews ... it gives a multi-sided and nuanced picture not only of Jewish identity in Poland but of the complex history of Poland and its Jews from the Second World War to the present. It is an essential source for a proper understanding of these developments. Antony Polonsky, Chief Historian POLIN Museum of Polish Jews, Emeritus Professor Holocaust Studies, Brandeis University [Subject: Jewish Studies, Poland, Holocaust, Identity Studies, History and Memory, Eastern Europe, Religion]

Not Yet Published
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781910383810