Memory Wars in Poland & Mexico Panel, Akko Conference, Israel, March 2019
The ongoing memory wars and politics of Holocaust memory in Poland and South America figured prominently throughout the conference. On a panel chaired by ASU Center director Dr. Thomas Pegelow Kaplan, Dr. Yael Siman (Universidad Anáhuac, Mexico) discussed four testimonies by Holocaust survivors who escaped to Chile and Mexico. She explored how the survivors' pain, shame and politics mediated the rendering of post-war testimony and how these dynamics were related to the socio-cultural and political contexts in these two countries, when the survivors were interviewed or composed their memoirs.
Dr. Agnieszka Zajączkowska-Drożd, the head of the Center for Holocaust Studies at Jagiellonian University, shed light on Holocaust history as a political tool, focusing especially on policies and legal initiatives of the current PiS-led Polish government. Her presentation showed how the narratives of Polish history in museums and public political discourses have been changing in recent years. While Polish heroism, sacrifice and victimhood is ever more emphasized, shameful behavior, collaboration and even support for genocidal killings of Jews is glossed over or remains unmentioned. For researchers in Poland, whose work has come under increasing scrutiny, these developments present serious challenges as they seek to conduct, present, and publish their work. These very dynamics have also started to change the meaning and form of Holocaust survivors' testimonies. Dagmara Swałtek-Niewiłska (Polish Academy of Sciences), finally, demonstrated the strength of the (unchecked) empirical work of many members of the younger cohort of Polish historians today. Her talk detailed Jewish escape routes from occupied Poland in 1943 and the multi-fold obstacles rescuers and rescued faced. The midday panel and subsequent discussion set a remarkably different tone from the evening address by Polish ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski (see recording on this Website).