Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

John Torpey

Committee Members

Philip Kasinitz

Debórah Dwork

Shelley Salamensky

Subject Categories

Eastern European Studies | Holocaust and Genocide Studies | Sociology

Keywords

Genocide, Jews, Collective memory, Nationalism, Poland, Central and Eastern Europe

Abstract

This study investigates Poland’s politics of Holocaust memory from the contentious Jedwabne debate in the early 2000s through the present and shows how the history of the Holocaust has been both distorted and exploited in contemporary Polish politics and culture. It pays special attention to the most recent period of Law and Justice Party rule (2015-2020) and considers the varying ways that the government has constructed its approach to the past by asserting a “policy on history” (polityka historyczna) in state-sponsored research, the educational system, legislation, museum narratives, and more. In so doing, this work argues that the Law and Justice government has politically obfuscated crimes committed by Poles against Jews during and after the Second World War and has rejected earlier attempts at “working through the past” (Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung). This study further argues that these governmental practices have reinforced the political hegemony of the Law and Justice regime as the guardian of Polish collective memory, with profound national and transnational implications for a host of global social and political issues, including anti-immigration politics, the suppression of women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights, and the spread of illiberal nationalist movements across Central and Eastern Europe. Finally, in this work, Poland stands as exemplar in the quest for understanding how societies mediate positions as both victims and victimizers across time and space.

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