The Warsaw Rising Museum: Polish Identity and Memory of World War II
Marta Kurkowska-Budzan
 

Marie-Claire Lafabre writes that shaping collective memory is possible under some conditions of which the main one is:  ?[?] that the interpretations of the past produced by authorities or the spokespersons [?] not contradict the lived experience of individuals [?]?[3]  But the totalitarian regime policy introduced to the Polish fabric of World War II memory told a story that stood contrary to individuals? experiences. This was the case in the obvious propaganda lie about the Katyn massacre.

Hence, after 1989, a natural reaction to the former "refusal of memory" was the "revival of memory." During the first phase of the ?revival of memory,? the main aim was to introduce into public discourse such a vision of World War II history that, on the one hand, revealed all the lies, manipulations and misinterpretations of the official communist version and, on the other hand, corresponded to private memory, family tradition, common knowledge and sentiments, and sometimes simply to the taken-for-granted and not fully articulated elements of the "silent knowledge."

Gradually, however, an awarenesse grew that history is more complex than a black and white pattern opposing the false communist version and the one and only true but partially mythical popular representations of Polish history. Therefore, public discourse witnessed new information and new interpretation of facts that had practically never been present either in the official communist propaganda or in clandestinely transferred tradition.

New information and interpretation decidedly opposed the official communist version of events, yet at the same time aimed at some over-simplistic popular beliefs and stereotypes. There was an attempt to show that although the greatest crimes against the Polish nation were committed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, both of which started the most tragic war in all Polish history, yet their neighbors had suffered as well, they also fell victim to injustice, and behavior of many Poles was not, to put it mildly, beyond reproach. New information and interpretation referred to Polish-Jewish relations, the expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, the fate of minorities in Poland after 1945.

One of the most painful subjects in Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War is undoubtedly the memory of Jedwabne; a small township in Eastern Poland where the local Jews were rounded up, locked in a barn and burned alive on July 10, 1941. A commotion started in Poland in the year 2000 with the publication of ?Neighbors. The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland? written by Jan Tomasz Gross.[4] The author accuses the Polish inhabitants of Jedwabne of burning their neighbors alive: ?One day, in July 1941, half the population of a small East [ern] European town murdered the other half?some 1,600 men, women and children.?[5] This statement caused a wave of astonishment among the Polish population: It seemed impossible that Poles could be victims and perpetrators at the same time. A whole polemic burst out, mainly in the columns of the Polish press, often called by media ?a breakthrough in demythologizing national past.?

[3]M.-C. Lavabre, Politics of memory and living memory: the case of postcommunism, conference materials, unpublished.

[4]J. T. Gross, Sąsiedzi.Historia zakłady żydowskiego miasteczka, Pogranicze, Sejny, 2000.

[5]Ibidem,  p. xviii.

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