(Not) Ours: Jews of Central and Eastern Europe and their neighbors
It’s been more than 20 years since the publication of Jan Gross’s famous book, which changed how scholars and societies thought about the Jewish-gentile relationship during and immediately after the Second World War. In the time that followed, scholarly discourse and public discussions focused on the issues of the complicity of the local collaborators, up to this point, under-researched and marginalized. The neighborhood concept became one of the most important for understanding not only the Holocaust but also the period before it and its immediate and long aftermath. At the same time, official and vernacular narratives about the Righteous Among the Nations, Jewish property, anti-Semitic violence after 1945 as well as “Jewish” involvement in the communist system are used and misused in the public debate creating an instrumental, politicized and simplified vision of the history of Jewish-gentile relations - in Central and Eastern Europe itself, but also in Western Europe, Israel and USA.
This special issue aims to critically reassess the very concept of Jewish-gentile historical and contemporary neighborhood in Central and Eastern Europe. We want to reflect on what it meant and means to be a Jewish neighbor now for Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Czech, Slovaks, and many more, as well as to be their neighbor for a Jew. How much “ours” the Jews were in the past and how much they are now when their physical presence in the region is somewhat symbolic, but the burden of complex past and material heritage reminds us about it on an everyday basis? This term “being ours” clearly resonates with the title of another essential book, “Our People. Discovering Lithuania's Hidden Holocaust” by Rūta Vanagaitė and Efraim Zuroff, bringings about notions of community, belonging, identity and responsibility. Are Central and Eastern European Jews more “ours” when we claim that it was them who founded the state of Israel and less “ours” when there is a need to come to terms with local collaboration with the Germans during the Holocaust? Is it easier to accept as “ours” remarkable Jewish emigres from the region rather than Jewish victims of the Holocaust, whose remnants still buried in the mass graves remain part of the landscape of many Central-European localities? How does the concept of the neighborhood evolve when the Jews are largely gone, but the memory remains inscribed in the space and the collective imagination?
Our goal is to bring together interdisciplinary scholarship exploring the various dimensions of the “ourness” concept. While on the most intuitive level we define it as including someone in the community, concept of “being ours” can be approached on the basis of various ways, beginning from historical neighborhood, ties, and belonging, as well as contemporary responsibility, memory practices, identity and imagination. We want to look back at how the “Neighbours’ turn” changed Holocaust and Jewish Studies, but also show how the societies and local communities of Central and Eastern Europe reacted to it and changed themselves in response. Therefore, we will focus not only on exploring the neighborhood in its historical dimension but also on issues of the contemporary cultural relationship and activities, symbolic space and commemoration, collective memory, and public discussions. Last but not least, in the time of the unprecedently brutal Russian war against Ukraine and the employment of historical rhetoric and arguments, including references to the Holocaust, by both parties, we want to ask how these concepts are and will be influenced by the current situation.