Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Poland: Real Jews are scarce in Warsaw, but ‘lucky Jew’ figurines are everywhere

Poles can’t get enough of the statuettes — little musicians, rabbis, merchants and bankers, with crooked noses and forked beards; some scholars fear they’re reinforcing the most dangerous of stereotypes.

Several dozen gray-bearded men wearing black skullcaps stand rigid in the shop beneath the Nozyk Synagogue, the sole Jewish house of worship to survive Nazi Germany’s annihilation of this city. Their unblinking eyes gaze mournfully ahead, but they haven’t gathered for prayers. They are on sale for $5 apiece.  Wooden and clay statuettes, known to Poles as “Zydki,” little Jews, populate homes and shops across the country, and far outnumber the remnants of a once populous Jewish community.
Photo credit
In the past decade, half a century after three million Polish Jews were exterminated, their popularity in Poland has grown significantly. The little Jews come in a variety of shapes and styles and hark back to the days when most cities in Poland were home to a centuries-old Jewish population. They are miniature musicians, rabbis, merchants and bankers, all sporting the distinctive beard and sidelocks of Orthodox Jews and wearing black frock coats. They are invariably elderly males fashioned in the likeness of anti-Semitic caricatures — crooked noses, forked beards and piercing eyes. Are they anti-Semitic creations? Some experts hesitate to say so. But they’re certainly stereotypical, the scholars say, and the popularity of a subset of the genre — little Jews holding a symbolic one grosz coin or a bag of money — is seen as a particularly disturbing trend. [...]

A recent study by a University of Warsaw psychologist found widespread Polish belief in a Jewish conspiracy to “control the international financial institutions” as well as the Polish economy and business sphere. “Today, with a range of different kinds of figurines, as well as new generations of consumers including tourists, it’s hard to know which ideas, which memories, which myths the figurines represent for their makers and their buyers,” [Dr. Erica] Lehrer said. “It’s a phenomenon that shows how deeply rooted Jews are in the Polish consciousness,” she said. But she admitted she finds the growing trend of Jews holding and counting coins “disturbing.” 

Dr. Stanislaw Krajewski, a Jewish-Polish professor of philosophy, wrote in the catalog accompanying Lehrer’s exhibition that he “resent[s] how the negative statement made by these figures is smuggled under the veil of something positive. It is said to be a sign of reverence for Jewish merits, abilities and magical powers. “But this superficial approval cloaks a sinister view of Jewish influence over money and the market, creating a sense of distance and difference. It also conjures links with supernatural powers, instilling fear. It is only a small step between this allegedly positive image and suspicion, resentment, and finally hatred,” he wrote.

More: Times of Israel

No comments :

Post a Comment