We won't see Auschwitz- but we still won't enjoy Poland
The Graphic Novel written by Jérémie Dres, traces his and his brother return to their ancestral home of Poland, in a search for their heritage, however not the end of their Jewish history (embodied by Auschwitz) but rather to find the living heritage of their forefathers. They will return not to where life ended but where it was lived. The quest to remember the life and not death of the Polish Jews is a nobel one and a thought provoking journey ensues, but.........
The rhetoric in terms of the Polish people of Poland,those living in Poland is increasingly uncomfortable throughout the narrative. This is evident in the very beginning of the text, as Poland is characterised as a land forbidden, a grave yard. With such a supposed hostile environment, that the brothers are walking into, why are they going? Ultimately why bother? It is with a contemporary victim mentality that they enter the country and this is how they continue to portray themselves. This continues with the chapter?! Entitled:
Watch out for the Polacks!
What a warning, What a chapter, The narrative creates the image that around every corner in Poland, there is a 'Polack' (Polack is an offensive and derogatory term for the Polish people) ready to victimise a Jew. Is this reverse-racism? What is this? This is followed by a contemporary Polish Jew, a member of a Jewish Youth Organisation, who gives the advice to the brothers to not ask too many questions. But why? No examples of hostility are ever shown? He does not recount his Anti-Semitic experiences. Rather the advice is given, you are safe in the assimilated large towns but not in the provincial countryside. Without any attached evidence.
The Anti Polish feeling in the book continues through out, unabated. The TSKZ (central committee of Polish Jews) say the poles want them to leave, they are tired of the Jewish presence within the country, in another instance 'The Polacks' are described as drunks (ALL OF THIS IS PRESENTED WITH NO EVIDENCE). The cuisine is not up to their 'haute cuisine'( Thats an actual quote) of France. The constant narrative of inferiority cast upon the Polish becomes tiresome to read. It also manages to disavow the morality and suffering of the narrative. You can not seek to blame the ills of past generation for your contemporary bias.
A bigger perhaps more important question, that the graphic novel attempts to answer, is in regards to Jewish Warsaw. The questioning of a blanketing of Jewish history, in regards to Polish relations during the war. The ignorance of the ghetto revolt. This along with the new law created by the government, which does not allow for the Polish to be considered as collaborators with the Nazis, does create worrying precedents on how Poland wishes to remember it's war history. This is certainly a debate that the book could have made more of. However with the opening of 'Polin' since the books publication, the jewish history of Warsaw is receiving more attention. Albeit with worrying symbolism from the Polish Government.
The final journey in the brothers search for their history is to the previous Shetl of Żelechów. This is the town in which there their Great-Grandparents were buried. The trip must have been emotional for the brothers, and to see the abandoned and overgrown Jewish Graveyard distressing. However their fear and denial of their Jewish heritage, ultimately scuppers their attempts to find out any more about their relatives. The records are for family only. This frustration is further compiled at the Krakow festival where they meet a Jewish woman who has researched her family at Żelechów,giving the realisation that this is not their quest alone. The heritage is shared among many former Polish inhabitants.
For me the Comic falls short. The aim of the brothers, is to go to Poland to see not the end of Jewish life, but the continuation and the everyday of their heritage. This is not fruitful though through their decision to continue to judge the contemporary Polish population on the sins of the father. They may not have gone to see Auschwitz, but it's looming physical and mental burden controls their interaction with the previous cradle of Jewish life.