The Crosses of Auschwitz
Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland
In the summer and fall of 1998, ultranationalist Polish Catholics erected hundreds of crosses outside Auschwitz, setting off a fierce debate that pitted Catholics and Jews against one another. While this controversy had ramifications that extended well beyond Poland’s borders, Geneviève Zubrzycki sees it as a particularly crucial moment in the development of post-Communist Poland’s statehood and its changing relationship to Catholicism.
In The Crosses of Auschwitz, Zubrzycki skillfully demonstrates how this episode crystallized latent social conflicts regarding the significance of Catholicism in defining “Polishness” and the role of anti-Semitism in the construction of a new Polish identity. Since the fall of Communism, the binding that has held Polish identity and Catholicism together has begun to erode, creating unease among ultranationalists. Within their construction of Polish identity also exists pride in the Polish people’s long history of suffering. For the ultranationalists, then, the crosses at Auschwitz were not only symbols of their ethno-Catholic vision, but also an attempt to lay claim to what they perceived was a Jewish monopoly over martyrdom.
This gripping account of the emotional and aesthetic aspects of the scene of the crosses at Auschwitz offers profound insights into what Polishness is today and what it may become.
Am Ass. for Advancement of Slavic Studie: AAASS/Orbis Polish Book Prize
American Academy of Religion: AAR Best First Book in the History of Religions
American Academy of Religion: American Academy of Religion Awards for Excellence
In Analytical-Descriptive category
American Sociological Association/Religi: Best Book in Religion
“The study of nationalism is one of those fields that tend to produce more heat than light. Having sweated through many of the debates myself, I found this study of Polish nationalism since the collapse of Communism as calming and refreshing as a cool beer on an August day. Geneviève Zubrzycki’s writing is direct and unpretentious, her argument clear and convincing, and the material rich and original.”--Philip S. Gorski, Yale University
“By analyzing in detail the famous controversy over the crosses at Auschwitz, Zubrzycki’s book shows with great ingenuity how the meaning of ‘Polishness’ has been negotiated, debated, and fought over since the fall of state socialism. She demonstrates in convincing and authoritative fashion that this conflict was not only a dispute between Poles and Jews over the memory of Auschwitz, but also a debate among Poles about the ‘proper’ discursive establishment of Polish national identity. This will become the standard work on this extremely important topic.”--Jan Kubik, Rutgers University
“The Roman Catholic Church was one of the principal forces which made possible the ultimate success of the Poles in negotiating the end of the communist system and freeing themselves from Soviet domination. This balanced and well-researched book examines how this Church has reacted to the new and more complex problems posed by the achievement of freedom and independence, and in particular, the painful legacy of antisemitism in sections of Polish society and of the Church itself.”--Antony Polonsky, Brandeis University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Key to Pronunciation
Introduction and Theoretical Orientations
1. Genealogy of Polish Nationalism
2. "We, the Polish Nation": Redefining the Nation in Post-Communist Poland
3. "Oswiecim"/"Auschwitz": Archaeology of a Contested Site and Symbol
4. The Aesthetics of the War of the Crosses: Mobilizing "the Nation"
5. Debating Poland by Debating the Cross
Conclusion: Nationalism and Religion Reexamined
Appendix A: Newspapers Consulted
Appendix B: Preamble to the Constitution of the Third Republic of Poland
Appendix C: Historical Cues