Return of the Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation of Jews in Poland

Return of the Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation of Jews in Poland

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Katka Reszke

Series: Jews of Poland
ISBN: 9781618112460 (hardcover) / 9781618113085 (paper)
Pages: 258 pp.
Publication Date: February 2013

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A new, “unexpected” generation of Jews made an appearance in Poland following the fall of the communist regime. Once home to the greatest Jewish community in the world and then site of one of the biggest tragedies in Jewish history, today Poland is experiencing what some have called a “renaissance of Jewish culture.” Simultaneously, more and more Poles are discovering their Jewish roots and beginning to seek forms of Jewish affiliation. Can there be “authentic” Jewish life in Poland after fifty years of oppression? Return of the Jew offers the first in-depth study of the third post-Holocaust generation of Jews in Poland. It provides a revealing account of the experience of being or rather becoming Jewish vis-a-vis uniquely compelling circumstances.

Katka Reszke (PhD, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel) is a researcher in Jewish history, culture, and identity. As a writer and documentary filmmaker, she specializes in human rights, social justice and minority and gender issues, as well as Polish-Jewish history and relations.

Return of the Jew is not a diary, confession, or manifesto in which the author places herself front and center. Rather, it is a theoretically informed and fine-grained study in which Reszke uses her dual positions as an insider within that small community and a social scientific outsider to extract rich and earnest narratives from her interviewees and then critically analyze them. The result is a textured account of identity building. . . . Reszke’s insightful analyses of the narratives that third-generation post-Holocaust Jews have created to explain, to themselves and others, their identifications and personal trajectories are an important contribution. It opens the path for studying the relationship between the Jewish revival and Polish philosemitism. As such, this book will be of interest to anyone interested in understanding this new twist in Jewish life in contemporary Poland and, more broadly, the complex dynamics of identity formation in societies that have endured radical traumas and ruptures.
— Genevieve Zubrzycki, University of Michigan, in the Slavic Review, vol. 73, no. 2 (Summer 2014)
Most Jews think there are no more Jews in Poland. This is not true even though in comparison with the millions of Jews before World War II the present number seems like nothing. The Jews who were born in Poland after the war and have lived there come mostly from assimilated and mixed families. Their search for roots and their readoption, or reconstruction, of some sort of Jewish identity provides for a fascinating story. Katka Reszke has been able to tell the story, building on her own involvement in it and on many interviews with young adults. The book gives an insight into their identity search and the expansion of Jewish presence in present day Poland—an unexpected bonus of the demise of Communism in 1989.
— Professor Stanislaw Krajewski, the University of Warsaw, author of Poland and the Jews: Reflections of a Polish Polish Jew
Uniquely positioned as both an insider and an acute outside observer, Katka Reszke provides an insightful analysis of a controversial and still developing phenomenon that has bemused, perplexed and sometimes enraged the outside Jewish world. In doing so, she gives rare – and welcome — voice to the actual protagonists, Poland’s “new Jews,” and sets in complex context their unprecedented, and often poignant, quest for place, identity and selfhood amid the brave new Jewish realities of post-communist Poland.
— Ruth Ellen Gruber, award-winning American writer, editor, and photographer
Thoughtful and articulate, Polish by birth and Jewish by destiny. . . Reszke is perfectly placed to present the experience of young adults in contemporary Poland who discover, or as she graphically puts it, “stumble over,” their Jewish roots. . . .The book abounds in vignettes that clarify the predicaments, the passion and the pain involved in constructing a Jewish identity in today’s Poland. . . . If you want to understand contemporary Jewish life in Poland, this is the book to read.
— Connie Webber in Jewish Renaissance, October 2013
Writing in the accessible style of first-person nonfiction for interested general readers, in a book structured as an anthropological investigation, Reszke documents her search to discover how new Polish Jews define themselves and their culture.
Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Table of Contents


Unexpected Generation
About Me
Socio-Historical Context
The Contemporary Polish Jewish Cultural Milieu

Theoretical Framework
Jewish Identity

Positioning the Researcher

Narrating Identity
The Discovery
Being Polish
Being Jewish
Sense of Mission

Certificate of Authenticity
Sense of Authenticity vis-à-vis Oneself
Sense of Authenticity vis-à-vis Others
The “Real” Jew
Models of Self-Authentication
To be a Jew in Poland
Primordial Identity Narrative
Perceived Essence of Jewishness
Jewish Identity Boundaries
Into the Future

Discussion and Conclusions
The World Gone Wrong
The Discreet Charm of the Primordial
The Primordial Paradigm
The Constructivist Paradigm
Primordialism is Circumstantial
Uncertain Identities
As “Real” as They Come