The Sound of Change: Jewish Music in Post-Communist Poland

  • Abstract:

    The present convergence in Poland of three factors—a conducive geopolitical environment, increased economic resources and incentives, as well as an ideological proclivity on a national level, has opened a new space for engaging with the country’s multicultural heritage. While initiatives such as the Jewish Culture Festival in Cracow began just before the demise of the communist regime in 1989, many smaller communities have only more recently started to explore the multicultural aspects of their collective past. This paper expands the discussion regarding better-known events in major urban centers (Gruber, Lehrer, Waligorska) and examines local initiatives in communities with a population of 20,000 or less that concern Jewish cultural heritage projects. It explores the socio-cultural milieu in which these activities are conceived, realized and experienced—the circumstances favorable to their development and the challenges they face. Activities may range from exhibits, the cleaning of a Jewish cemetery, to events such as concerts, festivals or Days of Judaism and / or Jewish Culture. Music performances in particular offer a non-threatening gateway into attitudes regarding the country’s pre-communist past and possibility for reconfiguring prior cultural perceptions. As smaller communities tend to be more conservative politically and culturally than large cities, an appraisal of such projects illuminates how Polish society in general is coming to terms with its Jewish heritage, and ultimately the pluralistic, democratic values that are the foundation of a civil society.