By Ruth Ellen Gruber
I'm delighted to announced the publication of a new book, to which I have contributed. It's called Reclaiming Memory: Urban regeneration in the historic Jewish quarters of Central European Cities, and it is published by the International Cultural Center in Krakow, Poland.
Edited by Monika Murzyn-Kupisz and Jacek Purchla, the book is the English language version of a collection of essays that was already published last year in Poland.
The essays included form the proceedings of a conference held in June 2007.
I've contributed a piece in my "beyond Virtually Jewish" mode, dealing with the creation of "new authenticities" and "real imaginary spaces" in today's world. It is a delight to be in a collection whose other contributors include Miriam Akavia, Leopold Unger, Janusz Makuch, Magdalena Waligorska, Martha Keil, Arno Parik, Jarolsav Klenovsky, Lena Bergman, Adam Bartosz and others.
Reclaiming memory – the theme of the conference organised by the International Cultural Centre in Krakow in June 2007 – is one of the most significant issues in Central Europe since the fall of communism. One salient aspect of this issue is Jewish heritage, for so many centuries such an expressive facet of the identity of this part of the continent, yet now survived only by a hollow echo. Vibrant districts were reduced by the Holocaust to lifeless spaces – witnesses to tragedy, orphaned monuments to a culture sentenced to annihilation, and in the best case to oblivion.
With the fall of communism and the restitution of freedom to Central Europe, the time came to reclaim that memory. The rediscovery of Jewish culture has become a characteristic feature of the transformation of the region’s largest metropolises: Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Vilnius and Warsaw.
The papers brought together in this publication go further than a simple general analysis of the issues attendant upon attempts at regeneration of former centres of Jewish culture since 1989. Their authors have tried to take a wider angle on the subject of Jewish heritage, and in particular on what Ruth E. Gruber aptly dubs its “new authenticity” and the phenomenon of “real imagined space”. For the question arises whether, paradoxically, this rapid evolution from a phase of destruction to rampant commercialisation will not eradicate completely the testimony to the Jewish presence in our culture that even the Holocaust failed to destroy?