The Collective Memory of Auschwitz and World War II among Catholics in Poland A Qualitative Study of Three Communities

The Collective Memory of Auschwitz and World War II among Catholics in Poland A Qualitative Study of Three Communities
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  The Collective Memory  of Auschwitz and World War  II among Catholics  in  Poland  Qualitative Study of  hree  Communities MAREK KUCIA, MARTA DUCH-DYNGOSZ ANDMATEUSZ MAGIEROWSKI This article discusses  the  results  of  focus group interviews with members  of three different Gatholic communities  in  Poland:  the  Radio Maryja Family fromRzeszów, epitomizing  the  so-called Glosed Ghurch, the  intellectuals fromLublin associated with  the  late Archbishop Zycinski, who exemplify adherents  to the Open Ghurch, and the  Glub of Gatholic Intelligentsia from Krak6w, whichadopts  a  middle position between these  two  groups.  The  analysis reveals thatalthough  the  groups constitute varying communities of memory with differentperceptions of the Polish national past and relations between Poles and Jews, thereare  no  significant differences  in  their memory of Auschwitz.  The  qualitative studyof these three Gatholic communities confirms  the  results of surveys which showthat over  the  past years  in  Poland  the  Jewish meaning  of  Auschwitz  has  gainedprecedence over  the  Polish  and  Gatholic meanings.INTRODUCTION: HISTORICAL AND RESEARCH CONTEXTS Historians estimate that during the existence of Auschv/itz (June 1940-January 1945) about 1.3 million people—men, women, and children—weredeported to the camp complex (Auschwitz I Stammlager—the main camp,Auschwitz II Birkenau, Auschwitz III Monowitz, and the sub-camps),of whom approximately 1.1 million perished.' The research literaturecategorizes the deportees to and victims of Auschwitz into five groups: Jews, Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and others. ^132  History Memory,  Vol.  25, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2013)  Collective Memory of Auschwitz and World War IIThe Jews were the largest group—almost oiie million murdered or deadout of nearly 1.1 million deported.' They were deported to Auschwitzfrom various European countries occupied by or allied to Nazi Germany:Hungary (438,000), Poland (300,000), France (69,000), the Netherlands(60,000), Greece (55,000), the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia(Theresienstadt) (46,000), Slovakia (27,000), Belgium (25,000), theThird Reich (23,000), Yugoslavia (10,000), Italy (7,500), Norway (690),and other camps and sites (34,000).* The Jews deported from a givencountry were usually the nationals and inhabitants of that country, that is,  the Jews of Hungary (in its wartime boundaries), the Jews of Poland(in its prewar boundaries), and so forth. However, many of theni werethe (former) nationals and former inhabitants of other countries. Thus,among the Jewish deportees from France and Belgium, there were manyemigrants from prewar Poland. The deportees from Theresienstadt inthe Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia included German Jews. Thosedeported ftom the ghettos in occupied Poland were hot only Polish Jewsbut also Jews ftom other countries, and so forth.The second largest category was Poles —70-75,000 victims outof 140-150,000 deportees. They were almost exclusively non-Jewish,mostly ethnic, and largely (Roman) Catholic Poles-'—citizens of prewarPoland deported to Auschwitz because they were perceived to be a threatto Nazi Germany's rule over the country, following its invasion on Sep-tember 1, 1939.The third category of victims was Gypsies, that is, Roma—21,000out of 23,000 deported.* Like the Jews, they were (prewar) citizens ofvarious European countries, including Germany and Poland. Like theJews, they were defined, by the Nazis according to racial criteria and weredeported to Auschwitz because the Nazis considered them enemies ofthe Third Reich.The fourth category was Soviet prisoners of war —at least 15,000,nearly all of whom were murdered or died in the camp.' These were RedArmy soldiers captured by the Wehrmacht following the invasion of theSoviet Union by Nazi Germany on June 22, 1941. They were mostlyRussian but also members of other national and ethnic groups of the USSR,including ethnic Poles. Among the Soviet prisoners of  war, there werealso citizens of prewar Poland of various ethnicities who became Soviet133  Marek Kucia, Marta  Duch Dynßosz  and Mateusz  Maßierowski citizens and were conscripted into the Red Army after the Soviet invasionof Poland on September 17, 1939.The fifth category, others, encompasses non-Jewish nationals ofvarious countries under Nazi rule: Czechs, Russians, Belarusians, Yugo-slavs, French, Ukrainians, Germans and Austrians as well as nationals ofsome other countries. This category numbered 10-15,000 victims outof 25,000 deportees. Like the Poles, they were deported to the campmosdy because they were perceived to be a threat to Nazi German rule.This categorization of the deportees to and victims of Auschwitz mayseem problematic as Poles, that is the nationals of Poland, could be foundnot only in the category Poles but also among the Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet prisoners of  war. It also seems reductionist because it turnsthe Jews of Hungary, Poland, and other countries, who were nationalsof their countries, that is, Hungarians, Poles, etc., into one category of Jews. In the case of Poland, the separation between Jews and Poles excludes the Jews of Poland (however they identified themselves—asPolish Jews, Jewish Poles or Poles of Jewish descent) fi-om the categoryof Poles. The same concerns the Polish Roma who are included in thecategory Gypsies and thus excluded from the Poles. This categoriza-tion, however, does haye its legitimation as it reflects the different reasonsof imprisonment and deportation for the various categories. After all, theJews of Poland, like the Jews of other countries, were deported to andjmurdered in Auschwitz as Jews, regardless of their country of srcin,nationality, religion, or self-identification, as were the Gypsies, Sovietprisoners of war, and others.The categorization of Auschwitz deportees and victims as Jews; Poles, Gypsies and Soviet prisoners of war has featured in publicdiscourse on, education about, and the collective memory of Auschwitzin Poland since the early 1990s.' Yet for many years earlier the Polishapproach to the camp's deportees, prisoners and victims was different.During World War II and for almost fifty years thereafter Auschwitz (thecamp), named Oswiçcim in Polish, was presented and perceived in Polandas the site and symbol of martyrdom of the Polish nation.' In this processit gained a Polish national meaning.   Over the years this meaning of Aus-chwitz/Oswiçcim evolved in accordance with the changing understandingsof the word riation (naród)  in the Polish language. Analytically, like inother languages, the word has two meanings: a  civic  meaning, epitomized134  History Memory,  Vol 25, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2013)  Collective Memory of Auschwitz and World War IIin the current Constitution of the Republic of Poland— We, the PolishNation—all citizens of the Republic, and an  ethni meaniiig, whichstresses common descent, history, culture and language.'^ In the case ofAuschwitz deportees and victims, the civic meaning embraces the category Poles as well as those of the category Jews who had been citizens ofprewar Poland (most of the Jewish deportees from occupied Poland, butalso considerable numbers of Jewish deportees from other countries). Italso includes in the category Poles those Gypsies and Soviet prison-ers of war who had been Polish citizens before the war. However, thismeaning of the nation masks the fact that the overwhelming majorityof the victims were not ethnic Poles. The second, ethnic meaning ofnation is also misleading as it includes only ethnic Poles in the categoryof Poles. Historically, until shordy afrer the war, when the memoriesof prewar multi-ethnic Poland were still vivid, Auschwitz/Oswiçcim asa national symbol had a civic meaning to people in Poland. But afrer thecountry had become nearly mono-ethnic as a result of war losses, bordershifrs and population movements, the term Polish nation gained a pre-dominandy ethnic meaning and Auschwitz/Oswiçcim came to signify topeople in Poland above all the suffering and death of their fellow ethnicPoles. At the same time, the communist authorities of Poland developeda Polish-and-international civic approach to the victims of Auschwitz thatobliterated Jews as a category; the victims of the camp, who were errone-ously believed to have counted at least four million, were presented asthe inhabitants or citizens of Poland and other countries: Poles, Dutch,Greeks, French, Italians, etc., with no mention of Jews.'^ The Jews couldat most be referred to as an adjective, such as the Jewish population ofmany countries, or by citizenship and religion as Poles of the Mosaicfaith, for example.'* In effect, the memory of Jews who were murderedin the camp because they were Jewish was almost totally erased in Poland,while in the West Auschwitz came to symbolize the Jewish Holocaust.In the 1970s-1990s Auschwitz/Oawiçcim acquired a religiousmeaning for Catholics in Poland.'^ This process was marked by a seriesof events: the beatification in 1971 and sanctification in 1982 of FatherMaksymilian Maria Kolbe, a Franciscan monk imprisoned in Auschwitzwho gave his life for a fellow Polish Catholic prisoner; pilgrimages to SaintMaksymilian's death cell; Holy Masses and processions on the grounds ofthe former camp; the visit of the Polish Pope John Paul II to the site of135  Marek Kucia, Marta  Duch Dynßosz  and Mateusz  Maßierowski the former Auschwitz I main camp and Auschwitz II Birkenau camp in1979; the establishnient of  a  Carmelite convent in a building adjacent tothe former main camp in 1984, which generated fierce Jewish-Catholicand Jewish-Polish controversy in 1985-93;'* the establishment of a chapeland a church in the buildings by the former main and Birkenau camps;the planting of crosses in the Birkenau field of ashes in the mid-1980s,and of the papal cross by the convent building in 1989;'^ and thecontroversy over these crosses that erupted in 1996, followed by the Warofthe Crosses in 1998-99.'«Following the Carmelite convent controversy and the War of theCrosses, the trends in the collective memory of Auschwitz in Polandreversed. Recent research shows that since the late 1980s and eariy 1990s,particularly during the 2000s, this memory has lost much of  its  nationalPolish (both ethnic and civic) and religious Catholic meanings in favorof  a  Jewish dimension. The new estimation of Auschwitz victims in theearly 1990s not only reduced their total number from over four millionto about 1.1 million but also showed that the number of ethnic Poleswho had perished in the camp was at most 70-75,000.^ s  a result, therehas been a growing public awareness in Poland that Auschwitz is a site ofthe Jewish Holocaust. The nationals of Poland are no longer presentedas the main group at Auschwitz, even though it appears from the newestimates that they constituted the largest civic category of deportees (mostof the 300,000 Jewish deportees ftom the ghettos in occupied Poland,140-150,000 non-Jewish Poles, as well as those Jews from other countries,Gypsies and Soviet prisoners of war who had been Polish citizens, i.e. atleast 450,000 in total, followed by 438,000 Jews from wartime Hungary)and were probably the largest civic category of the camp's victims. Thedecrease in the religious Catholic meaning of Auschwitz has also beenvisible. Although the Holy Masses and processions to commemorate SaintMaksymilian Kolbe and other victims of the camp are still held on thegrounds of the former Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau camps,and the papal cross still stands by the building of the former Carmeliteconvent, the former main camp with the cell in which Saint Maksymilianwas murdered is no longer the destination of numerous pilgrimages,no new crosses have been erected in or near the camp, and the visit ofPope Benedict XVI to the former camp in 2006 did not evoke as muchenthusiasm among Catholics in Poland as the visit of the Polish Pope.136  History Memory,  Vol 25, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2013)
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