AUP student taking a photo of the Seine during Orientation.

The George and Irina Schaeffer Center

Fabricating the Past: Symbolic Topography of the Former Warsaw Ghetto

University Room: Omid & Gisel Kordestani Rooftop Conference Center (Q-801)
Monday, December 5, 2022 - 18:30 to 20:00

This event is free and open to all. Registration is mandatory at least 48h in advance. Please use the form below to reserve a space; for additional information contact

The George & Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights, and Conflict prevention is honored to host Elżbieta Janicka, a historian of literature and a cultural anthropologist, for her guest lecture "Fabricating the Past: Symbolic Topography of the Former Warsaw Ghetto".

Burnt down and razed to the ground by the German Nazis, non-exhumed after the war, the former Warsaw Ghetto site is at once a symbol and the real thing in itself. It symbolizes and incarnates Jewish presence, identity, history, Jewish life and death. It symbolizes and incarnates the ultimate consequences of antisemitism. Its central location – in the heart of Warsaw that is the heart of Poland – symbolizes and incarnates the central position of the Holocaust in the country’s social fabric.

What do Poles who exert the control over this space make of this content? What were the stages of its symbolic rendering? How does the former Warsaw Ghetto site look today and what does its present shape mean? Since – as any cultural landscape – it can be apprehended in terms of cultural text, what narrative patterns emerge from its urban design, memorials, commemorative plaques, murals, names of buildings, streets and squares? Whose and what perspective do they convey?

While drawing on a lavish iconography the lecture will examine the basic narrative patterns imprinted in the former Warsaw Ghetto ground in an attempt to answer the question about the reasons of their persistence and intensifying repetitiveness between the 2000 revelation of Polish participation in the Holocaust and the 2015 authoritarian turn in Polish politics. Yet another question to be considered will be whether the observed phenomena may be perceived as representative of a broader process that led to the collapse of liberal democracy in this center of Europe.

Elżbieta Janicka received her M.A. at the Université Paris VII Denis Diderot and Ph.D and post-doctoral degree at Warsaw University. She is the author of two books, including Sztuka czy Naród? (Art or the Nation) and Festung Warschau (Forteress Warsaw). She also co-authored "Philo-Semitic Violence. Poland's Jewish past in the New Polish Narratives" and "This Was Not America. A Wrangle through Jewish-Polish-American History". Her research pertains to the identity and community building function of Polish antisemitism as well as the place and role of the Polish majority in the structure of the Holocaust. She works at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences.


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