Jews, Poles, and Slovaks : a story of encounters, 1944-48 / by Anna Cichopek-Gajraj.
After the Holocaust, Jewish survivors returned to Poland and Slovakia where they had to cope with the loss of entire families, destruction of hometowns, lack of basic supplies, and the absence of safety and security. The majority of them had no home to return to. In addition to personal upheaval, Jews as well as Poles and Slovaks faced new political landscapes. Change of regime in Slovakia and civil war in Poland were new facets of public life that intimately affected individual lives. Importantly, the Jews, both as a community and as individuals, had to cope with antisemitism and the increasing wave of violence associated with it.This study is a response to a common historical narrative which presents the Jewish postwar return to Eastern Europe as a story of antisemitism and emigration/integration alone. Instead of focusing on these phenomena, this study shows the return of Jewish survivors as a time of their encounters with state and society. These encounters included travelling back home, struggling to repossess property and retaining citizenship, rebuilding normal lives by marrying, having children, finding a job, engaging in political and cultural life, and, yes, experiencing violence.The shift of focus in addition to a comparative perspective allows showing that Jewish emigration and integration were not inevitable outcomes of the transitional postwar period. Despite intense violence in Poland, the Jews succeeded to build normal lives (in selected regions) without the need to assimilate radically. This study also shows that Jews were constantly interacting with the state and the majority population and were dependent on the two in rebuilding their lives. In fact, the postwar experience of Polish and Slovak Jews was so entangled with the experience of the rest of the country that it becomes unintelligible without it. Some experiences are incomprehensible even outside of a regional context, proving that large national narratives can be deceptive in the way they homogenize experience.
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