Shattered spaces : Jewish sites in Germany and Poland after 1945 / by Michael Meng
Includes bibliographical references (p. 417-453)
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By 1945, almost all that was left of Jewish life in Germany and Poland were shattered spaces—synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and Jewish districts. What happened to these damaged and largely abandoned sites after the Holocaust? This dissertation explores this question from a transnational and cross-political perspective; it analyzes the shifting appropriation of Jewish sites in Berlin, Essen, Potsdam, Warsaw, and Wrocław from 1945 to the present. In the early postwar decades, urban planners, historic preservationists, and officials completed the destruction of numerous damaged Jewish sites or allowed them to ruin by neglect. Jewish sites reflected spaces of violence and a minority culture that did not fit into the temporal demands of urban modernism, socialist realism, and the culturally inscribed boundaries of the "historic." But in the late 1970s the appropriation of Jewish spaces started to shift as church groups, residents, political dissidents, Jewish leaders, and tourists became interested in recovering the few traces still left standing. Since 1989, this attraction to Jewish sites and more broadly almost anything perceived to be "Jewish" has increased at an almost dizzying rate as Germans, Poles, Americans, Israelis, and others have searched for the vestiges of the "Jewish past." This surge of interest has not only produced numerous preservation projects, but it has also led to contradictory appropriations of the Jewish past. Jewish sites have come to reflect what I call "redemptive cosmopolitanism," an mnemonic impulse that harnesses the Holocaust for the celebration of democracy’s cathartic, redemptive arrival in a post-communist and post-fascist world. This dissertation analyzes this shifting history to contest arguments about the role of the nation and the cold war in the formation of memory. Historians have long connected collective perceptions of the past with national identity and emphasized some remembrance of the Holocaust in the west compared to the sinister manipulation of it in the east. Although national and political differences certainly mattered, my work uncovers the rich interplay between the local and the transnational. It examines the multiple, conflicting, and shared ways that Poles, Germans, Jews, Americans, and Israelis have appropriated Jewish spaces in the local built environment.
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