Jews in Museums
Jews in Museums
Narratives of Nation and ‘Jewishness’ in Post-Communist Hungarian and Polish Public Memory
This chapter reviews how museums in Poland and Hungary have conceived of Jewish history within national history, particularly in the way they represent the interwar years, the Second World War, and the Holocaust. It begins by situating them in the context of post-communist history debates. After 1989 the two countries and their museums had similar communist narratives to redefine themselves against. This was driven less by actual similarities of experiences and more by the needs of communist regimes to consolidate and legitimize their power and a Marxist analysis of history as class struggle. In both countries, as in the rest of Soviet eastern Europe, the communists represented themselves as leaders of the anti-fascist resistance, fighting for, liberating, and protecting the working people. They viewed fascism as an extreme form of capitalist exploitation: its racism and antisemitism were beside the point. Accordingly, Jewish victims, persecuted on racial grounds, were universalized and their specific suffering suppressed. In both Poland and Hungary, this communist interpretation meshed well with popular needs and pre-existing interpretations, in particular the need of post-war societies to see themselves primarily as victims rather than (also) as perpetrators of violence.
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