“A tripartite collection of texts constitutes both the basic source for and a compendium of Judaic topoi: the written Torah (the Hebrew Bible, i.e. the Old Testament), the spoken Torah (the Talmud and post-rabbinic literature) and the Kabbalah”, prof. Władysław Panas (1947-2005) wrote, stressing that these texts, known as a common treasury of images and a common cultural code, contain an extensive corpus of topoi which are characterised by their “‘short duration’ and low repeatability”. The topoi penetrate literary texts and are manifested in them through the artistic imagination of their authors (based, in turn, on a strong cultural foundation). Examples of such topoi include the Sages of the TalmudLawthe Quarrel with God (Talmudic topoi), Book-AuthenticLightAngels (Kabbalistic topoi), Eretz Israelthe Shtetlthe Golem (topoi stemming from Jewish Tradition) or Ahasver – the Wandering Jew (Anti-semitic topoi). It is possible to add another collection of topoi, such as: the Messiahthe Jewish motherthe Jewish childthe Tzaddik etc. To put the matter simply, it can be claimed that the literary fantasies of Jewish writers, regardless of the language in which they wrote their works (Hebrew, Yiddish or Polish) or their ideological declarations (religious or secular), were based on a collection of sacred images expressed in language. A great part of these topoi became the common heritage of Christians and Jews, and eventually entered the universal heritage of civilization. Thanks to the wide presence of the Bible in culture we do not speak about separate topoi – Jewish and Christian – but about one group: Judeo-Christian, within which there are Talmudic and Kabbalistic topoi (often deformed). The latter found its place there through European philosophy (mainly personalism and the philosophy of dialogue), for their creators were Jewish thinkers (Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas); and through Jewish folklore (Frankism and Hasidism), which marked Polish culture with its presence through the Romantic fascinations of Polish authors. This situation was changed dramatically by the Shoah. According to Prof. Panas this tragic event could be classified as a new source of Judaic topoi: the Old Doctor (Janusz Korczak), the Merry-go-round in the ghettoDead poets and Absence. Later. In my researching I propose other, more specific terms, the first one being: The place after the former ghettoPlace after the former Aryan sidePlace after a former campAnti-Semites/ Neo-NazisDevaluated valuesthe Post-Shoah GenerationsMuranówPogromthe RighteousShoah TraumaBattle for memoryLiving dead/ Jewish zombies.

In my lecture I would like to present a few examples of the 20th century Polish poems in which we can observe the Judaic topoi (poetry texts of Aleksander Wat, Arnold Słucki, Henryk Grynberg and Horacy Safrin) and the main trends in the newest Polish literature.

Foto av prof. Sławomir Jacek Żurek.
Prof. Sławomir Jacek Żurek

Prof. Sławomir Jacek Żurek is professor and head of the Centre for Polish-Jewish Literature Studies, as well as director of the International Centre for Research of the History and Cultural Heritage of the Central and Eastern Europe Jews at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. He has published widely on Jewish motifs in Polish literature and Polish-Jewish literature in Israel. He is a member of the Polish Society for Jewish Studies, the Council of the Polish Episcopate’s Committee for Dialogue with Judaism, and the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. In 2002-03, he held a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Notre Dame.