Communist Poland is typically depicted as a state actively aiming to erase the memory of the Holocaust. The Jewish genocide largely took place on the Polish territories yet the few commemorations that were organised often Polonised the genocide. They obscured the information about the victims and focused on the Polish helpers.
At the same time, the country was not supportive of its Jewish minority. Synagogues were nationalized and turned into workshops, cemeteries levelled, individuals expelled. The few organisations that were allowed to survive, existed on the Party concession. They were impoverished and disempowered.
Yet, as this paper attests, successful efforts to commemorate the Holocaust were made from as early as the 1950s. Regional activists, members of the religious Congregations, created a network of memorials. Reaching out from regional centres and encompassing local sites of killings, those small-scale memorials challenged the Communist authorities’ programme of commemorations. They marked the villages, towns and cities with references to the Jewish past. They have successfully prevented it from disappearing.
The present paper brings to attention the agency of the regional leaders and places them in regional networks of influence, to understand ways and means through which they managed to manoeuvre around the seemingly omnipotent Party-State. By mapping the memorials they have created, this research highlights the scale of the Jewish memorial project and presents a new take on the Communist past. It challenges the existing interpretations of the Holocaust memory and nuances the position of Jewish regional leaders.
Janek Gryta is a Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Bristol. He is a cultural historian with particular interests in the Holocaust commemorations in Eastern Europe, nation building, and history of social consensus under Communism.
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