Memory acquired. The conception of the Polish experience of the Holocaust as collective trauma in the light of a revision of the concept of bystander Cover Image

Pamięć przyswojona. Koncepcja polskiego doświadczenia zagłady Żydów jako traumy zbiorowej w świetle rewizji kategorii świadka
Memory acquired. The conception of the Polish experience of the Holocaust as collective trauma in the light of a revision of the concept of bystander

Author(s): Elżbieta Janicka
Subject(s): History, Social Sciences, Jewish studies, Sociology, Recent History (1900 till today), WW II and following years (1940 - 1949)
Published by: Instytut Slawistyki Polskiej Akademii Nauk
Keywords: Polish trauma of the Holocaust (concept revision); bystander/onlooker (concept revision); Polish-Jewish dialogue (concept revision); participating observer; panoptism; social control over the Holocaus

Summary/Abstract: The paper provides a reconstruction and proposes the deconstruction of the conception of the Polish experience of the Holocaust as collective trauma. The analytical framework is based on the revision of concepts such as Polish witness (bystander/onlooker – according to Hilberg) and indifference on the part of Polish majority society towards the persecution and murder of the Jews. The text postulates that the concept of indifference as well as that of the non-Jewish witness (bystander/onlooker) be dropped from the standard terminology used when describing the Holocaust. It proposes that the concept of the non-Jewish witness (bystander/onlooker) be replaced by the concept of participating observer – with a different understanding from that established within cultural anthropology. Thus, watching would be a form of activity, a way of having an influence on the events, of agency, and therefore participation. A significant part of my argument includes an attempt to address the question of the construction of watching during the Holocaust. From this it follows that watching constitutes the most basic form of power (droit de regard – according to Foucault and Bourdieu). Therefore, the question arises of whether or not one can describe the margins of the Holocaust within the terms of panoptic reality (le panoptisme – according to Foucault). A further question under consideration is whether one can depict the dominant majority as an unofficial authority wielding something akin to social control over the completion of the Holocaust understood as the German Nazi system of persecution and extermination of the Jews. The argument also foregrounds the actual functions of the concepts of the non-Jewish witness (bystander/onlooker) and indifference as well as the idea of the Holocaust as a trauma for the non-Jewish witness (bystander/onlooker). These functions resulted several times in the elimination of the historical concrete and its societal-cultural conditions from the field of vision. In this sense, the conception of unacquired memory (i.e. the Polish trauma of the Holocaust) would be a strategy for acquiring the memory of the Holocaust in such a way that it does not endanger the dominant narrative about the past and the identity of the majority. Furthermore, the paper proposes the deconstruction of the concept of Polish-Jewish dialogue by identifying the phenomena of false symmetry and false universalization that frequently result in defining anti-Semitism and the Holocaust within the categories of a groups conflicts. The inspiration to undertake such a critical analysis came from the paradigmatic work by Michael C. Steinlauf, Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust, published in 1997. (The Polish-language edition entitled Pamięć nieprzyswojona. Polska pamięć Zagłady [Memory unacquired. The Polish memory of the Holocaust] came out in 2000, translated by Agata Tomaszewska.)

  • Issue Year: 2015
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 148-227
  • Page Count: 80
  • Language: Polish