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Survivor Networks and the Polish Post-War Trials

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 2 Ballroom

Abstract

In the hundreds of investigation and court files in the post-war trials that took place in Poland based on the so-called August 1944 degree against Polish citizens who had been accused of crimes against their former Jewish neighbors, testimonies of Jewish witnesses stand out. They give harrowing accounts of intimate violence against their families and communities. Unlike many Polish non-Jewish witnesses, they tended to know the names of the Jewish victims as well as the local perpetrators. Taking cues from the subtext of the reports, interrogations and institutional correspondence, this paper seeks to sketch the public space in which survivors exchanged news about the trials. In the context of political chaos in Poland in 1944-1948, the return of thousands of Polish Jews from the Soviet Union and the mass Jewish emigration from Poland how did potential witnesses hear about the trials? Polish prosecution appealed to the Central Jewish Historical Commission and the Jewish Historical Institute for assistance but also contacted the landsmannshaften or organizations of Jews who had roots in the same community. But the process happened also in reverse – with Jewish survivors trying to pressure the state institutions to open cases. Family members already abroad wrote to those still in Poland adding details and urging them to see the cases through. By examining the formal and informal networks among survivors and the ways in which they interacted with the state apparatus, this paper seeks to broaden our understanding of the public effect of the trials in Poland on the community of survivors.

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