The recent controversy caused by the Polish government’s amendments to the law on the Institute of National Memory has sparked a fiery debate, with historians, politicians, and community leaders weighing in, often acrimoniously.
Having thoroughly covered Poland’s history, politics, and culture, we at Tablet believe that the best way to approach such complex controversies is solemnly and studiously, taking the time to understand the topic and its intricacies. To that end, we put together a collection of some of our stories pertaining to Poland, for the benefit of anyone wishing to engage with more than merely the sound and the fury.
Antony Polonsky, Chief Historian of the POLIN Museum of the history of Polish Jews, grappled with the question of Poland’s “dark past,” which pertains to “those aspects of the national past which provoke shame, guilt, and regret—which needs to be integrated into the national collective identity, which itself is continually being reformulated.”
That past, wrote David G. Roskies, a professor of Yiddish literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Hebrew University, is more elusive than any one government decree can force into submission. “Governments come and go,” Roskies wrote. “Institutes of National Remembrance come and go, and their members are quickly forgotten. What shall not be forgotten, because it lies in the moral and aesthetic bedrock of Holocaust writing, is the realism introduced by such author-eyewitnesses as Zofia Nałkowska, Michał Głowiński, and Tadeusz Borowski, the hallmarks of which are: the adoption of a new calendar and a terrible new lexicon; the verisimilitude of testimony; brevity; a sober, understated, deadpan style, stripped of metaphor; and a sensibility that routinely juxtaposes the mundane with the horrific.”
For the more literary minded, we offer reviews of works by Agata Tuszyńska and Jan Gross, which are really reflections on striving for historical and artistic truth under circumstances suspicious of both. And for those who prefer the conversational, David Samuels, Tablet’s literary editor, sat down for Q&As with the former dissident and celebrated intellectual Adam Michnik and the statesman Władysław Bartoszewski, the mastermind of Poland’s relations with Germany and the Jews.
We hope you’ll take the time to revisit these pieces, which are just as poignant today as they were when they were published.