Chidusz 1/2020: “Jewish gold”, music in concentration camps, and kosher grasshoppers

The first issue of Chidusz in 2020 is out

  • We open the issue with the article about one of the most widely discussed books of the last few months. Płuczki (which might be translated into English as Gold Prospecting) by Paweł Piotr Reszka is a reportage about the local populations gold-digging on the sites of former extermination camps in Bełżec or Sobibór. The book resonates with Golden Harvest (written by Jan Tomasz Gross and Irena Grudzińska-Gross in in 2012), once again proving that such phenomenon existed and was quite wide-spread. What interest us it the unwavering faith in the myth of the “Jewish gold” that turned simple village people into despicable grave diggers – we discuss it in relation to the current phenomena of Jewish figurines with coins (sold in many places across Poland) that exemplify the same stereotype, but in popular opinion they are regarded as “funny”, “innocent” or “ennobling” as they apparently refer to a trait that is positive and triggers envy.
  • The publication of the first issue of Chidusz coincided with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dariusz Latosi writes about Jewish composers who created their music – sometimes just a few lines of a melody, on a torn piece of paper – under unhuman circumstances.

  • 75 years after the end of the war the shelves in bookstores seems to be full of feel-good fiction stories. Even testimonies of survivors are expected to contain elements of struggle and heroism, exceptional escape stories, or at least some accusations. Yet, the real Shoah was mundane and monotonous – it was about food and survival rather than spectacular escapes. A Hidden Diary from the Lodz Ghetto by Heniek Fogel (published in Polish at the end of 2019) is a boring litany to bread. There is no action, no rising tension, just everyday survival – and it is precisely this what makes the memoir so valuable.
  • Samuel Ponczak, born in Warsaw in the district that later became the Jewish ghetto, survived the war in the Komi Republic in the USSR. When he and his family came back to Poland they settled in Reichenbach (which has then just become Polish Dzierżoniów) and later in Wrocław. In 1956, due to the rising antisemitic atmosphere, they left Poland, first to France and later to Argentina. It was not until 1964 that they could immigrate the US, where Sam finally pursued his dream of becoming an engineer. When he retired, he became a volunteer for the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and accidentally discovered a collection of signatures of Polish school kids and their teachers, donated to President Calvin Coolidge in 1926.  Realising that the collection, named the Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States, included half a million signatures of Jewish children, possibly the only trace of their existence, Sam became the spiritus movens behind the project of their digitalization. reszke-pluczki-recenzja-muzyka-w-obozach-auschwitz-rocznica-prawo-zydowskie-halacha-nauka-heniek-fogel-dziennik-lodzkie-getto-samuel-ponczak-jankew-dinezon-szwarcer-lgbt-queer-judaizm-zydzi-geje-02
  • The cover illustration by Edyta Marciniak was chosen because we fell in love with the characters Jacob Dinezon depicts in Der Shvartser Yunger-mantshik, a Yiddish novel which we have been publishing as series since issue no. 8/2019. The women’s names are Dvoyre and Sterne. They are both very pious and God-fearing Jewish mothers and wives—and probably the most horrible yentas the world has seen.
  • Talmud says that an eight month fetus cannot live, therefore in the ancient times such a baby, born prematurely, would be left without any medical help on Shabbat. The developments of medical science brought a change to how rabbis perceive such and similar cases. In the interview with rabbi dr. Ari Zivotofsky, professor of neuroscience and a qualified shohet, we discuss the intertwinings of religion and science, the question of kosher food of the future, and try to predict whether tampering with the genes of a baby in a pre-implementation phase would find rabbis’ approval.
  • In this issue we also publish Polish translations of two queer Torah commentaries (from Torah Queeries): to parashat Mishpatim by David Ellenson and parashat Terumah by Mark George.

Click here to read about this issue’s content in Polish. 

Click here to read more about our upcoming project Jewish Stories from Poland in English.