Scholarship on the civilization of Polish Jews has tended to focus on elite culture and canonical literature; even modern Yiddish culture has generally been approached from the perspective of 'great works'. This volume of Polin focuses on the less explored but historically vital theme of Jewish popular culture and shows how, confronted by the challenges and opportunities of modernity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it blossomed into a complex expression of Jewish life. In addition to a range of articles on the period before the Second World War there are studies of the traces of this culture in the contemporary world. The volume as a whole aims to develop a fresh understanding of Polish Jewish civilization in all its richness and variety.
Subjects discussed in depth include klezmorim and Jewish recorded music; the development of Jewish theatre in Poland, theatrical parody, and the popular poet and performer Mordechai Gebirtig; Jewish postcards in Poland and Germany; the early Yiddish popular press in Galicia and cartoons in the Yiddish press; working-class libraries in inter-war Poland; the impact of the photographs of Roman Vishniac; contemporary Polish wooden figures of Jews; and the Krakow Jewish culture festival. In addition, a Polish Jewish popular song is traced to Sachsenhausen, the badkhn (wedding jester) is rediscovered in present-day Jerusalem, and Yiddish cabaret turns up in blues, rock 'n' roll, and reggae garb. There are also translations from the work of two writers previously unavailable in English: excerpts from the ethnographer A. Litvin's pioneering five-volume work Yidishe neshomes (Jewish Souls) and several chapters from the autobiography, notorious in inter-war Poland, of the writer and thief Urke Nachalnik. As in earlier volumes of Polin substantial space is also given to new research into a variety of topics in Polish Jewish studies.
These include the origins of antisemitism in Poland; what is known about the presence of German forces in the vicinity of Jedwabne in the summer of 1941; and the vexed question of Jews in the communist security apparatus in Poland after 1944. The review section includes an important discussion of what should be done about the paintings in Sandomierz cathedral which represent an alleged ritual murder in the seventeenth century, and an examination of the 'anti-Zionist' campaign of 1968.