Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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NATAN GROSS
Jewish Themes in Recent Polish
Literature
J
ew is h
t h e m e s
h a v e
p e r m e a t ed
P
o l ish
l it e r a t u r e
since its
inception. There have, however, been periods when the level of
interest in Jews and the concentration of Jewish motifs —
whether presented in a positive or a negative light — have been
relatively high, in response to social and historical developments
either within Poland or in the Jewish world.
During the Middle Ages and the Polish Renaissance, this inter­
est was expressed in fundamentally
religious
terms. Authors of
the Romantic era, such as Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki,
Cyprian Kamil Norwid and Zygmunt Krasinski, regarded Jews as
a people with a mission, and turned to the Hebrew Bible and
Kabbalah as sources of literary inspiration. The era of Positivism,
during the second half of the 19th century, witnessed a wave of
sympathy toward Jews (alongside more hostile attitudes) on the
part of such Polish writers as Eliza Orzeszkowa, Jozef Ignacy
Kraszewski and many others, including Boleslaw Prus,
Aleksander Swi^tochowski, Klemens Junosza (Szaniawski), Gab-
riela Zapolska, Wiktor Gomulicki, Maria Konopnicka and Stefan
Wyspianski — to name but a few of the approximately fifty major
authors of that period.
The positivists dealt in particular with the theme of Progress
among Jews — meaning their assimilation. Other subjects
touched upon were the place of the Jewish intelligentsia in Polish
society and the participation of Jews in the 1863 Polish uprising,
the latter topic evoking a folksy sentimentalism on the part of
these authors.
The twentieth century, above all the twenty years of Polish
independence (1918-1939), brought with it the contributions of
Jews themselves as active participants in Polish literature. This
development, in turn, engendered an incessant anti-Semitic reac­