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Difficult questions in Polish-Jewish dialogue

By David Zolldan

Of rifts and bridges

The rediscovery of century-old Jewish traditions in present-day Poland is proceeding in small steps, against the backdrop of the National Socialist annihilation of Jewish life; the leveling of culture by state socialism; and the deep rifts of suspicion due to pogroms after 1945, collaboration and sheer indifference of Christian Poles toward Jews. To be sure, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw was opened in October 2014 after many years of planning. But what about current religious and cultural Jewish life in Poland and the perspectives of Polish Jews today? The NGO "Forum on Dialogue Among Nations" is dedicated to building bridges through dialogue to overcome stereotypes and prejudice. It uses seminars and exhibitions to confront anti-Semitism and to further its pedagogical work for tolerance and open Polish-Jewish dialogue. It also regularly organizes exchange programs between Polish and mostly US-American Jews and youth exchange programs between Polish and (Polish-) Jewish adolescents. Recurring questions that were evidently of particular concern to the young people, the "difficult questions," were culled from these exchange experiences. Experts in the field of Polish-Jewish relations provide answers to these 50 questions about the experience and perception of the supposed others in the book "Difficult Questions in Polish-Jewish Dialogue. How Poles and Jews See Each Other: A Dialogue on Key Issues in Polish-Jewish Relations." The book was created in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee and was funded by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, among others. The project aims to support cooperation between Jews and Poles. It is intended to enable understanding of unfamiliar perspectives on history, politics and everyday life.

Difficult questions? Helpful answers!

The 50 questions are organized into seven categories. The one containing the most questions by far deals with the time of the National Socialist occupation and persecution in Poland. The remaining categories are "Memory and Knowledge about The Holocaust", "Present-day Poland and the Jews", "Jewish Presence in Contemporary Poland", "Present-day Israel", "Judaism and Jewish Culture" and "Future". In the categories "Present-day Poland and the Jews" and "Jewish Presence in contemporary Poland" the book, on the face of it, deals with Polish-Jewish history and relations. However, it is of value also for young people and influential educators coming from other contexts. Besides providing answers to questions about such problems as collaboration, questions that can readily be integrated into the respective experiential and national context, it also provides general answers about religious, historical and political aspects. This includes questions about the origins and triggers of anti-Semitism, about the role of women in Judaism, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about the Israeli curriculum on the Holocaust and whether the Holocaust could have been prevented. As the answers to some of the questions touch on the content of other answers but were provided by different authors, there are sometimes slightly different nuances. An example is afforded by Israel Gutman’s answer to question 6 ("Why did Poles collaborate with the Germans in persecuting Jews?") and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski’s answer to question 7 ("How did Poles behave during the Holocaust?") with their respective positions on the assessment of Polish collaboration with the German crimes against Jews. However, these ostensible contradictions can be put to productive use for discussions, by emphasizing multiperspectivity.

Application

Appropriate in both language and content for advanced students and educators who are both interested and influential, "Difficult Questions" fills a dialogic void as a resource and serves as an introduction to different perspectives on Polish-Jewish history, politics and everyday life – even beyond Poland. In a school context, "Difficult Questions" could be employed not only in history classes but, thanks to the English edition, also in English classes. In 2006 the book was published in Polish, and Hebrew followed. Thus, the book undoubtedly also serves as a good preparation for all participants in international youth encounters with the partner country Poland. A free sample is online at http://www.difficultquestions.org; it contains all 50 questions as well as eight sample answers. The book has about 260 pages and can be ordered in print at a very low price from various established vendors. The NGO "Forum in Dialogue Among Nations" also offers workshops for students based on the book "Difficult Questions." These include "Criticism of Israel or Anti-Semitism" and "Anti-Semitic Graffiti."

Contact:

http://www.difficultquestions.org
forum [at] dialog [dot] org [dot] pl
The printed English edition can be ordered e.g. by email from Michael [at] friendsoftheforum [dot] org.

 

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