Significant Others - Jewish Life In Poland

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01Sunday Feature2013070720140811

01Sunday Feature2013070720140811

Writer Eva Hoffman examines the rich history and impact of a thousand years of Jewish presence in Poland and Polish attempts, since 1989, to re-connect to a people and history inextricable from their own. It is a story largely overshadowed by 6 years of annihilation on Polish soil by the occupying Nazis. Today we remember the loss. Poland as a graveyard.These two programmes explore vastly different worlds before and after destruction.

This spring an impressive new museum telling the history of Jewish presence in Poland opened in Warsaw, once home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, now home to a few thousand Jewish souls. Chmielnik is a small town a few hours drive from Krakow. Once its population was 85% Jewish, now there are no Jews left in this former shtetl. Yet this June an elaborately restored synagogue and interactive new museum of the shtetl was unveiled, but who is it for? Perhaps for Poles anxious to reclaim a Jewish history that they increasingly now see as their own? For Israeli and other Jewish tourists who consider Poland usually as the end point of Jewish life rather than a place that has shaped Ashenazi Jewish identity around the world.

This summer Krakow hosts its 23rd festival of Jewish culture festival in a city whose Jewish community numbers only in the 100's. Israeli funk bands, skateboarding Hassidic rabbis and workshops on anything from food to the most complex historical and religious issues run throughout. More people will attend than there are Polish Jews. The maxim now is' Small presence, big impact.

For post Communist Poland re-connecting with their Jewish story, their Significant Others, has become a multi layered and sometimes startling process of rediscovery.

The centuries that come before the 'wolfhound' 20th, are the story Eva Hoffman focuses on in the first programme. The rise of a Jewish civilization in the East that would go on to create a vast body of literature, culture and thought and whose fortunes were inextricably tied with the emerging story of Polish identity and nationhood.

Jewish settlement, usually at the invitation of Polish nobility, was crucial to developing the vast lands. This was no small community of persecuted migrants but a people as at home in the lands of what would become the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth as those of Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and German origin. Here scholarship flourished in cities like Krakow whilst Jewish life flourished in 'shtetls', the unique phenomenon of almost entirely Jewish towns and villages later celebrated or denigrated in the great Yiddish literature of the late 19th and early 20th Century. All bound by faith, communal structures including the remarkable Council of the Four Lands and the transnational language of Yiddish.

By the middle of the 16th century, about 80% of world Jewry lived on Polish lands. During this 'Golden Age', the word "Polin" - the Jewish name for Poland - could be interpreted to mean "Here though shall rest in exile" - in other words, that Poland was a second promised land. But for how long?

Reader: Henry Goodman

Producer: Mark Burman

First broadcast July 2014.

02 LASTSunday Feature2013071420140812

02 LASTSunday Feature2013071420140812

Writer Eva Hoffman examines the traumatic contradictions and perplexity of the Jewish Polish experience of the 20th Century and the unexpected return of history and memory in the 21st. The 20th Century offered hard challenges for Jewish Poles. Which language to speak? Yiddish or Polish? Which faith to follow? The new politics of Zionism and perhaps emigration? The defiant Yiddish voice of the Socialist Bund? The creed of Communism or the continual values of the Shtetl, the devotion of Hasidism, the perpetual study of the Torah?

Yiddish writing peaked with the work of I.L.Peretz, I.J. Singer and Sholem Asch. Warsaw sounded to the hot jazz licks of Addy Rosner and the dance tunes of Henryk Gold. Julian Tuwim, writing in Polish, stunned all with his poetry and yet was always aware of the contradictions of Jewish identity in the new century.

Despite the rise of Fascism on its borders and the increasingly shrill nationalism at home, this land was still the least worst place to be in Central Europe. Until September 1st 1939. By 1945 the Nazis had done their best to destroy the idea of Poland, as had the Soviets. Both had killed its intelligentsia. The Germans had enslaved, starved and slaughtered millions and gathered the Jews of Europe, the majority of whom resided in Poland, to be murdered on its soil. By 1947, after sporadic pogroms, what had been Europe's largest Jewish community was now just 100,000. What could its future be? The cruelties of the Cold War largely decided its fate. Emigration to Israel and elsewhere increased under the assault of official anti-semitic persecution, culminating in mass expulsions in 1968. Jewish identity was buried, whispered among families. A thousand years of Polish Jewish presence seemed finally at an end.

The decades since 1989 have been bewildering and unexpected. The vast new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw opened this spring. It is the boldest statement yet that the history and memory of its Signifcant Others has returned for many in Poland. Elsewhere, Cracow's Jewish Festival is in its 23rd year. Although there are more Polish migrants in London than there are Jews in the whole of Poland, fledgling Jewish communities in cities like Warsaw and Cracow now seem at least viable. Perhaps Poland's most Significant Others have truly returned to history and to a land that has helped shape the world.

Reader: Henry Goodman

Producer: Mark Burman

First broadcast July 2013.

012013070720140811

Writer Eva Hoffman examines the rich history and impact of a 1000 years of Jewish presence in Poland and Polish attempts, since 1989, to re-connect to a people and history intertwined with theirs. A story largely overshadowed by 6 years of annihilation on Polish soil by the occupying Nazis. Today we remember the loss. Poland as a graveyard.These two programmes explore vastly different worlds befored and after destruction. This spring an impressive new museum telling the history of Jewish presence in Poland opened in Warsaw, once home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, now home to a few hundred Jewish souls.In the small town of Chmielnik, a few hours drive from Krakow, this former shtetl had a population 85% Jewish, now it is zero. In June an elaborately restored synagogue and interactive new museum was unveiled but who is it for? This summer Krakow hosts its increasing famous Jewish festival in a city whose Jewish community only numbers in the 100's. Small presence, big impact? For new Poland re-connecting with their Jewish story, their Significant Others, has become a multi layered and sometimes startling process of rediscovery.The centuries that come before the 'wolfhound' 20th, are the story Eva Hoffman focuses on in the first programme. The rise of a Jewish civilization in the East that created a vast body of literature, culture and thought and whose fortunes were inextricably tied with the emerging story of Polish identity and nationhood. By the middle of the 16th century, about 80% of world Jewry lived on Polish lands. During this 'Golden Age', the word "Polin" - the Jewish name for Poland - could be interpreted to mean "Here though shall rest in exile" - in other words, that Poland was a second promised land.

Reader: Henry Goodman

Producer: Mark Burman.

Writer Eva Hoffman examines the rich history and impact of a thousand years of Jewish presence in Poland and Polish attempts, since 1989, to re-connect to a people and history inextricable from their own. It is a story largely overshadowed by 6 years of annihilation on Polish soil by the occupying Nazis. Today we remember the loss. Poland as a graveyard.These two programmes explore vastly different worlds before and after destruction.

This spring an impressive new museum telling the history of Jewish presence in Poland opened in Warsaw, once home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, now home to a few thousand Jewish souls. Chmielnik is a small town a few hours drive from Krakow. Once its population was 85% Jewish, now there are no Jews left in this former shtetl. Yet this June an elaborately restored synagogue and interactive new museum of the shtetl was unveiled, but who is it for? Perhaps for Poles anxious to reclaim a Jewish history that they increasingly now see as their own? For Israeli and other Jewish tourists who consider Poland usually as the end point of Jewish life rather than a place that has shaped Ashenazi Jewish identity around the world.

This summer Krakow hosts its 23rd festival of Jewish culture festival in a city whose Jewish community numbers only in the 100's. Israeli funk bands, skateboarding Hassidic rabbis and workshops on anything from food to the most complex historical and religious issues run throughout. More people will attend than there are Polish Jews. The maxim now is' Small presence, big impact.

For post Communist Poland re-connecting with their Jewish story, their Significant Others, has become a multi layered and sometimes startling process of rediscovery.

The centuries that come before the 'wolfhound' 20th, are the story Eva Hoffman focuses on in the first programme. The rise of a Jewish civilization in the East that would go on to create a vast body of literature, culture and thought and whose fortunes were inextricably tied with the emerging story of Polish identity and nationhood.

Jewish settlement, usually at the invitation of Polish nobility, was crucial to developing the vast lands. This was no small community of persecuted migrants but a people as at home in the lands of what would become the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth as those of Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and German origin. Here scholarship flourished in cities like Krakow whilst Jewish life flourished in 'shtetls', the unique phenomenon of almost entirely Jewish towns and villages later celebrated or denigrated in the great Yiddish literature of the late 19th and early 20th Century. All bound by faith, communal structures including the remarkable Council of the Four Lands and the transnational language of Yiddish.

By the middle of the 16th century, about 80% of world Jewry lived on Polish lands. During this 'Golden Age', the word "Polin" - the Jewish name for Poland - could be interpreted to mean "Here though shall rest in exile" - in other words, that Poland was a second promised land. But for how long?

First broadcast July 2014.

02 LAST2013071420140812

Writer Eva Hoffman examines the traumatic contradictions and perplexity of the Jewish Polish experience of the 20th Century and the unexpected return of history and memory in the 21st. The 20th Century offered hard challenges for Jewish Poles. Which language to speak? Yiddish or Polish? Which faith to follow? The new politics of Zionism and perhaps emigration? The defiant Yiddish voice of the Socialist Bund? The creed of Communism or the continual values of the Shtetl, the devotion of Hassidism, the perpetual study of the Torah?

Yiddish writing peaked with the work of I.L.Peretz, I.J. Singer and Sholem Asch. Warsaw sounded to the hot jazz licks of Addy Rosner and the dance tunes of Henryk Gold. Julian Tuwim, writing in Polish, stunned all with his poetry and yet was always aware of the contradictions of Jewish identity in the new century.

Despite the rise of Fascism on its borders and the increasingly shrill nationalism at home, this land was still the least worst place to be in Central Europe. Until September 1st 1939. By 1945 the Nazis had done their best to destroy the idea of Poland, as had the Soviets. Both had killed its intelligentsia. The Germans had enslaved, starved and slaughtered millions and gathered the Jews of Europe, the majority of whom resided in Poland, to be murdered on its soil. By 1947, after sporadic pogroms, what had been Europe's largest Jewish community was now just 100,000. What could its future be? The cruelties of the Cold War largely decided its fate. Emigration to Israel and elsewhere increased under the assault of official anti-semitic persecution, culminating in mass expulsions in 1968. Jewish identity was buried, whispered among families. A thousand years of Polish Jewish presence seemed finally at an end.

The decades since 1989 have been bewildering and unexpected. The vast new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw opened this spring. It is the boldest statement yet that the history and memory of its Signifcant Others has returned for many in Poland. Elsewhere, Cracow's Jewish Festival is in its 23rd year. Although there are more Polish migrants in London than there are Jews in the whole of Poland, fledgling Jewish communities in cities like Warsaw and Cracow now seem at least viable. Perhaps Poland's most Significant Others have truly returned to history and to a land that has helped shape the world.

Reader: Henry Goodman

Producer: Mark Burman.

Writer Eva Hoffman examines the traumatic contradictions and perplexity of the Jewish Polish experience of the 20th Century and the unexpected return of history and memory in the 21st. The 20th Century offered hard challenges for Jewish Poles. Which language to speak? Yiddish or Polish? Which faith to follow? The new politics of Zionism and perhaps emigration? The defiant Yiddish voice of the Socialist Bund? The creed of Communism or the continual values of the Shtetl, the devotion of Hasidism, the perpetual study of the Torah?

First broadcast July 2013.