Although there has been a growing interest in Poland’s Jewish past during the last forty years, many cultural texts from this period treat the subject with some form of reticence and are filled with, often telling, gaps, blank spots, and silences. This presentation will explore one particular form of such silence; namely, the elision of characters’ Jewishness and the avoidance of the term “Jew.” Often criticized as a normalizing tool that universalizes the Jewish experience in Poland and erases difference, this talk will posit elision and silence as a strategy that, while not unproblematic and certainly with limitations, is used by both Jewish and non-Jewish writers alike to underscore the inherent generalizations and stereotypes of the word “Jew” in Polish discourse, to highlight individual lives and interpersonal relations over markers of identity based on ethnicity and religion, and to express fractured, multivalent Polish-Jewish identities.
Diana Sacilowski is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include 20th & 21stcentury Polish and Russian literature and culture, memory and trauma studies, and representations of World War II and the Holocaust in literature and film. She is currently working on her dissertation project, Strategies of Silence: Representations of Jewish Poles in Polish Literature since the 1980s, which engages with portrayals of Jewish characters and Polish-Jewish history in Polish cultural texts since the eighties.