Friday, 16 March 2012

Eastern sore spots (1)

To be frank, I hardly remarked the little wooden dolls of shtetl Jews on the market stalls and in the shop windows when in Poland this week; they stood alongside other affectionate national caricatures - the fat angry policeman, the gypsy and the clochard. But this trip, for the first time, I briefly explored the old ghetto, and visited one of the old synagogues, where I listened briefly to a young American woman talking history to a small group. She offered the fact of these dolls, available everywhere, and often depicted holding money, as evidence that Poles were "still anti-Jewish". Restraining the impulse to respond "Tsshk - always the victim already ..." I quickly moved away. 

The truth was pretty clear to anyone whose thinking was undistorted by this kind of crass victim mentality. The dolls were all traditional caricatures of constituents of Polish society, and meant that those represented were nothing to be afraid of, nothing to avoid contact with. Handling a Jew doll is just a step away from shaking hands with a real Jew. The tragedy of it is that while the other dolls have been updated to their modern forms, so the drunk plumber has a mobile phone, the Jew remains stuck as he would have appeared in 1940, there being now too few Jews left in Poland to update the stereotype.   

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