OPPOsite

Opposite nr 1

Mniejszości narodowe i etniczne w sztuce polskiej po 1945 roku. "Dla ciebie chcę być biała"

Izabela Kowalczyk / Broken art history - about the omissions of Jewish issues in Polish Art History after 1945

In this paper, I want to reflect on the mechanisms of omission in Polish Art History written after WWII and related to issues of Shoah, Jewish questions and anti-semitism.

The manipulation of memory by Polish Communist governments, resulted in not including the memory of Shoah (according to thesis by Michael C. Steinlauf). Shoah was named in the official history of that time just as genocide, without specification of the nationality of the victims. Auschwitz was treated as an international place, but at the same time as a place of Polish martyrdom memorized "as the struggle and martyrdom of Poles and other nations". There was also no mention of Polish guilt in relation to strong anti-semitism before WWII. These issues were sentenced to oblivion. Anti-semitism came back after WWII and was revealed in incidents of pogroms, plundering of Jewish property, and later in politics of government and anti-semitic battue between 1967 and 1970, when about 20,000 Jews were forced to go abroad.

This situation had an influence on Polish Art History and conservation that was focused on so called "national heritage" and "national monuments". Only the monuments that matched these criteria were removed and restored. It resulted in a complete lack of interest regarding other culturally important monuments and buildings. As a consequence, synagogues were profaned and left to ruin as well as protestant churches and many secular buildings from former German territories.

In the art history discourse, there were any references to the Shoah in general elaborations on Polish art written between 1945 and 1989. The time of WWII and Shoah was named there as "time of contempt", "cataclysm of WWII", "war's pogrom", "moral devastation" and "Nazis' dehumanization", but we can't find any information about the most horrible tragedy concerning the Jews. It is a surprising fact, especially that from the end of war there were created works of art related to suffering of Jews, showing elimination of ghettos and indicated disappearance of Polish citizens of Jewish origins during Shoah. Jewish origins of some Polish artists, their experiences in the camps, their identity troubles (as in the case of Alina Szapocznikow who after the liberation from concentration camp admitted citizenship of Czechoslovakia) were not taken into consideration in these elaborations. It seems that some works were omitted there, because they evoked the tragedy of Jews not only in iconographic sphere, but also in the titles (as the cycle "To my friend Jews" by Władysław Strzemiński). Art history was written in avant-garde paradigm, but often it was also a romantic-national paradigm. The argument which was used against so called "barbarians" (what is interesting - many of them had Jewish origins) during the famous "Arsenal" exhibition was that this art was "strange for our tradition". Why were these artists met with such strong critique? Why did Izaak Celnikier decide to emigrate with regard to the anti-semitic climate already established in 1957? Why did critics and art historians write about the cruelty of war with reference only to chosen artists (mainly to art by Wróblewski and Cwenarski)? Why did they keep silent about other artists like Stern, Linke, Celinikier? Why was their art not taken into consideration in this context?

It seems that Polish Art History discourse is full of such silence, oblivion and omission touching artists of Jewish origins and their experiences. On the other hand there are also omissions of strong anti-semitism of some Polish artists like Stanisław Szukalski.