Seminar at Uppsala on Holocaust and Poland

The argument focuses on the reception of the globalized narrative of the Holocaust in Poland. It is argued that this narrative has not been successfully integrated into the local memory, partly because of the narrative’s own deficiencies and partly due to the specific nature of the way in which local memories have been produced. Instead, it has contributed to the split of collective and social memories as well as to further fragmentation of each of these two kinds of memory. In result we may say that in post-communist Poland the Holocaust has been commemorated on the level of official institutions, rituals of memory, and elitist discourses, but not necessarily remembered on the level of social memory. It is claimed that to understand this phenomenon we should put the remembrance and commemoration of the Holocaust in the context of the post-communist transformation, in which the memory of the Holocaust has been constructed rather than retrieved in the process of re-composition of identities that faced existential insecurity. The non-Jewish Poles, who in the 1990s experienced the structural trauma of transformation, turned to the past not to learn the truth but to strengthen the group’s sense of continuity in time. In this process many of them perceived the cosmopolitan Holocaust narrative as an instrument of the economic/cultural colonization of Eastern Europe in which the historical suffering of the non-Jewish East Europeans is not properly recognized. Thus the elitist efforts to reconnect with the European discourse and to critically examine one’s own identity has clashed with the mainstream’s politics of mnemonic security as part of the strategy of collective immortalization that contributed to the development of antagonistic memories and deepened social cleavage.

Slawomir Kapralski, Professor of Sociology at the Pedagogical University of Kraków and a recurrent visiting lecturer at the Centre for Social Studies operated by Lancaster University and Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. He graduated from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow where he also received his Ph.D. in Sociology and started his academic career. Then for many years he has been associated with the Central European University (Prague, Warsaw, Budapest). In 2013-2014 he was Senior Fellow at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, and in 2016-2017 he is Senior EURIAS Fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala. His research focuses on nationalism, ethnicity and identity, collective memory, antisemitism and the Holocaust, and the Roma communities in Europe. He is a member of the Gypsy Lore Society, the European Association for Holocaust Studies, and the European Academic Network on Romani Studies. Among others, he is the author of a monograph A Nation from the Ashes. The Memory of Genocide and Roma Identity (2012).