Poland and the Jews: Reflections of a Polish Polish Jew

TitlePoland and the Jews: Reflections of a Polish Polish Jew
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsLaczó, Ferenc
Author(s) of reviewed materialKrajewski, Stanisław
PublisherKraków: Wydawnictwo Austeria
ISSNISBN 83-89129-22-1
Review year


Full Text

Written by a significant participant in current Jewish life in Poland and numerous dialogues between Jews and Christians, this book features eight thoughtful pieces that primarily deal with the relations between Jews and Poland, featuring reflection on contemporary issues and discussing their historical background. Relations between Poles and Jews have often been troubled in the recent past and much ill will and insensitivity are still characteristic of them. Even though there are no more “real conflicts” to speak of, controversies over symbols and interpretations of the past, which in all likelihood entered a new phase with the debates about the Jedwabne massacre, are likely to continue. Thus, Polish Polish Jews (or Poles of the Jewish faith) such as Krajewski are badly needed to provide crucial mediation.

Krajewski, a mathematical logician, describes a de-assimilation, which does not mean de-Polonisation: he was raised as a Pole, but starting around the time of the Solidarity movement, he began to reflect on his Jewishness (until then an almost complete taboo in communist Poland that also instigated the worst anti-Semitic campaign of post-war Europe in 1968, under the banner of anti-Zionism, forcing the majority of its small Jewish minority to emigrate), explore Jewish traditions and found Judaism (he claims to prefer “more traditional practice and more liberal theology”). The Shoah is his background, but not the main source of his Jewishness.

This volume features reflection on contemporary issues and discusses their historical background, such as

  • The symbol of Auschwitz, the threats of its banalization and instrumentalization, and ways to deal with the actual site, specifically the attempts at Christianising it. A member of the International Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial, he not only knows the controversies first hand, but takes a well-argued stance on almost each issue
  • The controversial relations between Jews and communism, on which Krajewski proposes ten theses, all worth considering. Overcoming taboos imposed by the forceful expressions of anti-Semitic prejudice, he aims to establish the significance of Jewish communists as a Jewish concern (a moral challenge), even if their involvement clearly had its reasons in social structures and recent historical experiences rather than specific Jewish traditions or “character”
  • Recent events in the relationship between Jews and Christians, where a protracted, but mostly positive development is evident. Such dialogues can be conducted only by people with strong, secure identities, ready to meet Christians as Christians or Jews as Jews. Fortunately, in the past twenty years, there has been a significant growth in research on Jewish history and more and more interest in Judaism is noticeable in Poland. This new curiosity also means a polarization of opinion in Poland: in the 1990s growing anti-Semitism was accompanied by more opposition to anti-Semitism.

Of the crucial controversial issues that require mediators such as Krajewski, let me describe one. It is little understood outside Poland how Auschwitz is also a symbol of Polish suffering (and part of Polish-German relations), while in Poland it is very difficult to conceive of the Shoah as a challenge to Christianity. Whereas Jews might identify Christians as perpetrators, Poles tend to see only Nazi Germans. Instead of perpetuating the rivalry in suffering typical of Polish-Jewish relations, in which both sides are obsessed with their innocence, Krajewski presents both positions empathically but without equating them. He claims that it is impossible to accurately describe the war experiences of Jews and Poles along the dividing lines of tragedy and normalcy. There is a more complicated gradation we ought to keep in mind: Cracow could seem “indecently normal” compared to Warsaw at the time of the 1944 Uprising, while even life in the Warsaw ghetto could seem “indecently normal” compared to Treblinka.

Krajewski’s clear prose, readiness to consider various sides’ sensitivities and present their views in a balanced manner without equating the value of their stances makes this book qualify among the best introductions to the complexities of the controversial topics addressed.