Monthly Publications Update, May 2020, PSA/H-Poland Member Submissions

Patrice Dabrowski's picture

(7 entries:  books, special issue of journal [6 articles], journal articles, chapter in edited volume, book review article)




1.  Aleksandra Jakubczak, Polacy, Żydzi i mit handlu kobietami (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2020). 


Keywords: trafficking; prostitution; Poland; criminality; slavery; philanthropy


Abstract: The book examines the “white slavery” scare in the Polish lands at the turn of the twentieth century. By exploring how female enslavement stories affected the Jewish and Christian population in partitioned Poland, the book corrects Polish historiography that, until today, has perceived trafficking of women as a significant social problem intentionally created by anti-Polish politics of the occupying powers. This monograph argues that these “white slavery” narratives resonated particularly well with the early-twentieth-century Polish society that faced tremendous changes caused by industrialization and mass emigration. The “white slavery” discourse spoke to the contemporary Polish society’s anxieties about freedom of its members, especially those considered most vulnerable, in the modern world. Certain groups took advantage of these prevalent fears and utilized the “white slavery” scare to promote their own agendas.




2.  Magda Romanska and Kathleen Cioffi, eds., Theatermachine: Tadeusz Kantor in Context (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2020).


Keywords: postdramatic theater, Tadeusz Kantor, theater of death, postmemory, Holocaust, posthumanism, object theory, Jewish theater, Dybbuk, Polish theater, avant-garde, avant-garde theater, trauma theory, directing, director, Yiddish theater, memory studies, experimental theater, devised theater, theater in Poland, auteur directors, Eastern European theater


Abstract: Theatermachine: Tadeusz Kantor in Context is an in-depth, multidisciplinary compendium of essays about one of the most influential theater artists of the twentieth century. Hans-Thies Lehmann’s theory of postdramatic theater and developments in critical theory—particularly Bill Brown’s thing theory, Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, and posthumanism—serve to provide a previously unavailable vocabulary for discussion of Kantor’s theater.


Drawing on diverse approaches, the contributors write about Kantor from both global and local perspectives: as an exemplar of “postdramatic tragedy”; in relationship to Jewish culture and Yiddish theater; through the prism of postmemory and trauma theory; and in relation to Japanese, German, French, Polish, and American avant-garde theater. This comprehensive anthology arrives at a time when we grapple with the materiality of our modern lives—AI, technobjects, and algorithms—and might thus also be better poised to understand the materiality that permeates Kantor’s theater.



Special Issue of Journal:


3.  The Environmental History of the Holocaust, guest editors: Ewa Domańska and Jacek Małczyński.  Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 22, no. 2, 2020.


Jacek Małczyński, Ewa Domańska, Mikołaj Smykowski and Agnieszka Kłos, “Introduction: The Environmental History of the Holocaust” []


Keywords: Ecocides; ecosystems; environmental history; heritage; Holocaust research; paradigm shift; post-Holocaust landscapes


Abstract: The introduction conceptualizes environmental history of the Holocaust as a subdiscipline of Holocaust studies. The authors approach this emerging field of research through the context of environmental humanities with its current interest in the Anthropocene, soil science, forensics, multispecies collectives, and explorations of relations between ecocides and genocides. Proposed approach considers post-Holocaust spaces and landscapes as specific ecosystems and examines relations between its actors (human and non-human) in order to show the Holocaust’s spatial markers and long-terms effects. The article outlines existing literature on the subject, identifies the central research problems and questions, and discusses sources and methods. The authors demonstrate that the environmental history of the Holocaust applies a hybrid methodology that uses methods from various disciplines with the aim of creating new theories and interpretive categories and thus should be considered complementary to existing approaches in Holocaust studies. The authors follow the methodological principles of grounded theory in generating new concepts and seeking multidisciplinary methods for explaining nature’s role in the Holocaust and how Holocaust has changed nature. The authors claim that environmental history of the Holocaust broadens Holocaust studies as a field of research and opens up new questions concerning relations between nature and extermination in order to provide a more holistic perspective for exploring the relationship between culture and nature, genocide and ecocide. The approach proposed here shows Holocaust and post-Holocaust landscapes in terms of ecological/natural heritage, which might influence the way these spaces are commemorated, conserved and preserved, as well as used for tourist purposes.


Jacek Małczyński, “The Politics of Nature at the Former Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp” []


Keywords: Environmental history; Auschwitz-Birkenau; monuments; cultural landscape; genocide; Ecocide


Abstract:  This article seeks to develop a new approach in Holocaust studies, namely an environmental history of the Holocaust. A case study of the former concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau demonstrates the extent of the entanglement of the politics of memory and the politics of nature, or political ecology, to use Bruno Latour’s term. I suggest that memorials should be treated as an environment, and thus explored as an assemblage of human and nonhuman (f)actors. Analysing both the official preservation strategies adopted by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum as well as artistic projects (including Łukasz Surowiec’s Berlin-Birkenau), I consider commemorative practices’ environmental impact. My investigation thus primarily focuses on the role of the figure of the tree-as-witness in preservation work and in the use of powerful herbicides (namely Roundup) in preserving traces of the camp. This study could open the way to further comparative studies of ecocide and genocide.


Agnieszka Kłos, “The Green Matzevah” []


Keywords: Auschwitz-Birkenau; Halina Birenbaum; testimonial poetry; Holocaust ecocriticism; colours of the Holocaust; witness trees


Abstract:  This article examines the extent to which historical memory, including the symbolism of Auschwitz-Birkenau, can be considered not only in terms of its close connections to both Polish and Jewish national and political imaginaries, but also in terms of its entanglements with survivors’ memories of nature. I analyse the presence of the post-camp space of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Helena Birenbaum’s poetic testimonies. This is a space that has often been described as tainted and contaminated while being treated as a lifeless “landscape of death” and cemetery. Readings of Birenbaum’s testimonial poetry alongside archival and field research conducted at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum have enabled me to talk about grey and green camp’s landscape. I have sought to demonstrate that such spaces function in Auschwitz testimonies under the cover of metaphorical constructions and poetic images that I call “the green matzevah,” that contain significant analytical and empirical potential. I explore how the camp’s dead grey zones have over the years turned into green matzevahs, i.e. terrain that has experienced post-traumatic curating by invasion of plants. I argue that drawing attention to the world of nature as represented in testimonies can expand knowledge of the camp, challenging the martyrological framing that prevailed under communism and help to imagine how to preserve a memory of this place when there are no human witnesses.



Ewa Domańska, “The Environmental History of Mass Graves”



Keywords: Post-Holocaust spaces; necrocide; mass graves; human remains; soil science; humus


Abstract:  The author presents an ecological-necrological perspective on the ontology of the human dead body and remains in the context of Holocaust studies. The article examines the environmental history of mass graves and reflects on the ontological status and condition of human remains. The author proposes an approach that combines humanities and soil sciences while thinking about post-genocidal spaces and sites of mass killings in order to discuss the issue of protecting human remains from politicization and commercialization and to prefigure appropriate long-term approaches to the preservation of sites containing human remains. The article suggests focusing on humus while examining the process of dehumanization through decomposition (organic decay) and unbecoming human by “becoming-soil.” To enrich and problematize the humanities’ conception of humus, the article draws on conceptions of humus proposed by soil scientists. What is argued here is that the ecological perspective becomes a necessary and essential element in managing post-genocidal (and post-Holocaust) sites, particularly when it comes to planning their conservation and preservation.



Mikołaj Smykowski, “The Postholocaust Landscape of Chelmno on the Ner (Kulmhof an der Nehr): An Ecological Perspective” []


Keywords: Holocaust; Chelmno on the Ner; human remains; mass graves; ecology


Abstract: This article shows how the ecology and nature of the Rzuchów Forest (in the Rzuchów district of the Koło forestry inspectorate in Greater Poland) was indirectly affected by the extermination of the Jewish population as a result of it being used to camouflage evidence of the crimes. Tracing the environmental history of commemoration in the forested part of the former death camp at Chełmno on the Ner (Chełmno nad Nerem/ Kulmhof an der Nehr) will give an indication of the ecological consequences of efforts to preserve the material traces of the camp and its natural surroundings. These efforts continued into the late 1980s. The ecology of commemoration and environmental commemoration form the two poles of this ecological continuum. It is possible to bring them closer together by furthering debates on the relationship between genocide and ecocide, while also  expanding existing narratives on the Holocaust by turning to environmental aspects. This research is guided by the idea that it is necessary to rethink existing (and planned) forms of commemoration of crimes against humanity in the context of environmental ethics, with this approach leading to forms of commemoration at killing sites that give more consideration to the environment.



Tim Cole, “Expanding (Environmental) Histories of the Holocaust”


Keywords: environmental history; Holocaust historiography; Holocaust landscapes; post-Holocaust landscapes; agency


Abstract:  This epilogue draws out three ways that environmental histories of the Holocaust might challenge the current historiography to expand its horizons. Firstly, environmental histories of the Holocaust expand the range and nature of actors studied as we seek to understand genocide and its aftermath. Secondly, and closely linked to this, environmental histories of the Holocaust expand the range and nature of sources and methods drawn upon in genocide research. Thirdly, environmental – and ecological – histories of the Holocaust expand the chronological boundaries of study when conceptualizing histories of genocide. Taken together, the nascent literature on environmental and ecological histories of the Holocaust offer an important extension of what writing “integrated” histories of the Holocaust might entail.





4.  Jessica C. Robbins, “Expanding Personhood beyond Remembered Selves: The Sociality of Memory at an Alzheimer’s Center in Poland,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 33, no.4 (December 2019): 483-500.


Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, aging, memory, personhood, Poland 


Abstract: Examining the social and processual dimensions of personhood can transform ethnographic and clinical understandings of “person-centered care” in dementia care specifically and in medicine more generally. Ethnographic research among people with early-stage Alzheimer's disease in a day center in Poznań, Poland, shows that practices of remembering involving collective memory can sustain personhood and foster ties of relatedness among people with dementia, defying some expectations about the destructive effects of dementia on personhood. This apparent paradox between people with dementia's loss of memory and their capacity to build social relations based on remembering can be resolved through expanding understandings of personhood to include practices of remembering involving collective pasts--in this case, through shared national frameworks and embodied practices of sociality. Attending to these two dimensions of collective memory reveals unexpected aspects of personhood among people with dementia.


5. Aaron T. Seaman, Jessica C. Robbins, and Elana D. Buch, “Beyond the Evaluative Lens: Contextual Unpredictabilities of Care.” Journal of Aging Studies 51 (December 2019).


Keywords: Evaluation, Care, Unpredictability, Disorder, Everyday life, Ethnography


Abstract: Social science and gerontological research on care tends to focus on identifying practices that qualify as ”good care” and promoting interventions that might produce it. In this article, we identify this approach to care as the ”evaluative lens.” We argue that while useful, an evaluative approach to studying care can limit scholars' abilities to attend to the complex and disorderly aspects of care in daily life. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research in three distinct contexts of elder care, we show the central role that contextual unpredictability plays in care experiences. In so doing, we argue for scholarship that recognizes care as a form of becoming, embedded in processual and historically contingent relations.



Chapter in Edited Volume:


6. James Wald, “'The Rot Must Be Stopped Even At The Cost of Some Public Discussion': Anti-Semitism in the Polish Forces as a Crisis of Policy and Public Information,” in Allied Communication to the Public During the Second World War: National and Transnational Networks, ed. Simon Eliot and Marc Wiggam (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), 113-30.


Keywords: Poland, government-in-exile, military, army, World War II, Jews, antisemitism, nationalism 


Abstract: For the continental governments-in-exile hoping to reclaim their states after victory, the management of information was as important as military contributions to the war effort. Three episodes shaped the image of the Polish government. In 1942, it published news of the Holocaust. In 1943, its demands for an explanation of the Katyń massacre led the Soviets to break relations. The third, from 1944, has been forgotten. The Polish and British governments, as well as representatives of their Jewish communities, had all, for reasons of their own, sought to deal behind the scenes with antisemitism in the exile army. When two large groups of Jewish soldiers left their posts and demanded to join British units, both nations quickly acceded, desperate to avoid bad publicity at a politically sensitive time. They then drew the line. When news of the court martial of a third group reached press and parliament, it precipitated a month-long crisis. All groups now realized that the issue would have to be fought out in the public sphere. The firestorm of criticism brought about the soldiers’ amnesty and eventual release from the Polish forces.



Book Review Article:

7.  Piotr Florczyk, on Steven G. Kellman's Nimble Tongues: Studies in Literary Translingualism (Purdue University Press, 2020), in Los Angeles Review of Books, April 10, 2020. 


Keywords: translation, translingualism, self-translation