The Distinguished Speaker Series; Coming to Terms with The Dark Past in Poland & Lithuania with Professor Antony Polonsky

Thursday, April 27, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. via Zoom

The complex and often acrimonious debates about responsibility for the mass murder of the Jews during the Second World War are part of a much wider argument about the totalitarian experience of Europe in the twentieth century. This controversy reflects the growing preoccupation with the issue of collective memory. One key element in the understanding of collective memory is the ‘the dark past’ of nations – those aspects of the national past which provoke shame, guilt and regret - which needs to be integrated into the national collective identity, which itself is continually being reformulated.

In this sense, memory has to be understood as a public discourse which helps to build group identity and which is inevitably entangled in a relationship of mutual dependence with other identity-building processes. Consequently, memory cannot be seen as static and unchanging. Rather, it is a representation of past reality, revised and modified according to the changing demands of present-day identity, something which is itself subject to modification.

In my presentation I should like to examine the way these debates have evolved in Poland and Lithuania. In particular, I will analyze why the process of coming to terms with the ‘dark past’ has proved so difficult in both countries. Increasingly self-critical views of the past have been challenged by apologetic views of Polish and Lithuanian behaviour during the Holocaust, which highight assistance to the Jews and resistance to the Nazis and downplay. collaboration and anti-Jewish activity. I will examine this phenomenon and discuss what can be done to counteract it.

For further information, please contact Kelly Nester at Temple Beth Sholom at 941-955-8121, or

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