Biography and Memory: The Generational Experience of the Shoah Survivors

Biography and Memory: The Generational Experience of the Shoah Survivors


Kaja Kazmierska

Series: Jews of Poland
ISBN: 9781936235780 (hardcover)
Pages: 396 pp.
Publication Date: May 2012

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Biography and Memory discusses the return of Jews to their places of birth in Poland. A biographical urge to come full circle often leads to symbolic journeys to one’s roots, but in the case of Shoah survivors, such journeys are unexpected, defying the generational definition of their biography, which mostly draws a demarcation line between wartime trauma and a new post-Holocaust life. Analyzed biographical stories collected from Israeli survivors indicate that such returns may be considered the last chapters of their wartime experiences. Survivors’ biographies are examined in the context of both Jewish and Polish memory. This book will be of interest to sociologists, historians, and to general readers.

Kaja Kazmierska (PhD University of Lodz) is an associate professor at the Department of Sociology of Culture, University of Lodz. Her publications include Polish War Experiences and Ethnic Identity: An Analysis of Eastern Borderland Narratives (1999) and the Polish language edition of this book, Biography and Memory: The Generational Experience of the Shoah Survivors (2008).

The author has faced quite a task: of bringing together and, simultaneously, meeting the requirements of many various perspectives characteristic of sociology, psychology/social psychology, anthropology, narratology and generally discourse theories, and – on the other hand – history, in its inevitable entanglement in the perspectives of other social and cultural studies, transcending today’s traditional historiography, which tries to answer the question, “how was it.” I am convinced that this book will generate a keen interest among researchers from various fields; it has the makings of resonating with a wider, non-academic audience as well.
— Prof. Andrzej Piotrowski, professor of Sociology, University of Lodz
Prof. Kazmierska’s book is not only a result of professional commitment to the subject of her research, it also shows intellectual courage, honesty, and insight, as well as a deep personal sensitivity of a Polish sociologist in respect to the touchy and explosive issue of Polish-Jewish relations.
— Shimon Redlich, Ben-Gurion University
This amazingly well-written book, whose author makes use of the methodology of social qualitative analysis, takes up many issues vital to Polish people.
— Prof. Janusz Mucha, professor of Sociology, AGH University of Science and Technology

Table of Contents

Foreword to the English Edition and Acknowledgments

Chapter I. Biographical Dimension of the Return to the Birthplace
1. Why “the Return”? 
2. Continuity, Identity, Memory
3. Place, Homeland, Roots
4. The Return as a Voyage/Pilgrimage
Chapter II. Social Frames of Memory
1. Memory as a Form of Cultural Practice
1.1. Nostalgia and Archival Memory
1.2. Lieux de Mémoire
1.3. Democratization of Memory
2. Oblivion
3. Collective, Social, and Biographical Memory
3.1. Symmetry or Asymmetry of Collective and Biographical Memory
3.2. The Paradox of Biographical Memory
Chapter III. Polish Memory and the Polish-Jewish Relations
1. Introduction to the Subject
2. A Few Remarks on Strangeness and Anti-Semitism
3. Wartime
3.1. Being a Witness
3.2. Separation of the Polish and Jewish Wartime Fates
3.3. Poles Saving Jews
3.4. Takeover of “Post-Jewish” Property
4. Polish-Jewish Relations after the War
4.1. The Shoah in Postwar Collective Memory of Poles
4.2. The Stereotype of a Communist Jew
5. Jewish Lieux de Mémoire in Polish Milieu de Mémoire
6. Meeting with the Local Community versus Liaison Work
Chapter IV. Jewish Memory
1. Postwar Return
2. Israeli Memory
3. American Memory
Chapter V. The Voyage-Return in Narrative Interviews with the Israeli
1. Characterization of the Gathered Material
2. The Journey
2.1. Journeys during the PPR Era
2.2. Journeys with Israeli Youths
2.3. Personal Journeys
3. Language
3.1. Linguistic Competence of the Narrators
3.2. Learning Hebrew
3.3. Assuming New Names
3.4. “Abandoning” One’s Own Language: Contemporary Perspective
4. Identity
4.1. Identity after the Arrival in Eretz Israel
4.2. The Problem of Identity Today
4.3. Stereotypes
5. The Shoah
5.1. Attitude toward Places of the Shoah
5.2. Mourning for the Loved Ones
5.3. Intergenerational Transmission
6. Memory
6.1. Aspects of Memory Building
6.2. Traumatic Experiences: Bad Memories
6.3. Creating Space for Good Memories
6.4. Rootedness in Memory of a Place
Chapter VI. The Return in Biographical Experience: Case Analyses
1. Estera: The Return Process
2. Sara: Marginality
3. Rut: Rootedness in Polish Culture
4. Chana: Ambivalence and Rootedness
5. Processuality, Time, Biographical Work
6. Individual and Collective Aspects of the Return
7. “Polishness” and Israeliness in the Biography: Working Out the Balance
8. Marginality Once More