Friday, October 14, 2022

Geneviève Zubrzycki's "Resurrecting the Jew"

Geneviève Zubrzycki is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia at the University of Michigan. She’s the author of the award-winning The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland and Beheading the Saint: Nationalism, Religion and Secularism in Quebec.

Zubrzycki applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Resurrecting the Jew: Nationalism, Philosemitism, and Poland’s Jewish Revival, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The Paradox of Hospitality

The exhibition points to Polish hospitality from the start, as the story begins with the arrival of Jews and their settlement on Polish land. In postvisit interviews, visitors emphasized the Jewish legend surrounding the settlement of Jews in Poland—with God telling Jews traveling through dense forests that “here [they] will rest,” and King Kazimierz granting rights to Jews—as a key takeaway point. This may be because independent visitors tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the first two galleries of the exhibition (titled “First Encounters” and “Paradisus Iudaeorum”). Perhaps the beginnings capture their imagination because they know key characters of the story (e.g., King Kazimierz and his lover, the beautiful Esterka) but not the historical details and facts of the period. Perhaps they spend more time in those galleries simply because at the beginning of the exhibition they are more motivated to read everything and interact with every prop. Or perhaps they prefer to spend time steeped in images of the distant past than to view (or avert their eyes from) the violence of the recent Polish Jewish past. In any case, by the time visitors reach the Holocaust gallery, they have noticeably less energy. Those with small children often leave because of fatigue or because of the graphic nature of the exhibition. Thus the impression many visitors retain is of the mostly peaceful coexistence of Poles and Jews over centuries, and the vision that President Komorowski conjured in his speech of Poland as “a safe haven and a generally friendly place for Jews, ... a beautiful exception in Europe at that time.”
Page 99 of Resurrecting the Jew is part of a chapter that examines the Polish state’s discourse on Polish-Jewish relations and analyzes the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews’ permanent exhibition and its reception by visitors. It is based on ethnographic observations and interviews with visitors during 104 visits to the museum. The passage highlights how politicians and visitors fold the exhibition’s narrative into a romanticized vision of Polish-Jewish relations. In that sense, page 99 “passes the test,” as the book dives under the surface to uncover the different meanings Jewish history and culture have for non-Jewish Poles, and how they are used to represent and promote a vision of Poland as open, hospitable, and multicultural. But page 99 also “fails the test” because it does not capture the rich ethnographic portraits of non-Jewish Poles invested in the resurrection of Jewish culture, or of the Poles discovering and embracing their hidden Jewish roots and actively participating in the revival of Jewish communal life in Poland. It is also impossible for a single page to communicate the book’s bigger story: that of an ongoing Polish culture war about the nature of Polishness and its relationship to Catholicism. While one camp favors a traditional vision of Polish identity crystallized around Catholicism, conservative family values, and a national narrative emphasizing Polish martyrdom and heroism, the other questions that mythology, and promotes progressive values and secularism through the support of Jewish culture and Jewish communal life. Resurrecting the Jew shows why and how that progressive political project is articulated through a Jewish revival and philosemitic practices, and examines its challenges and limitations.
Learn more about Resurrecting the Jew at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue