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Warwick Seminar for Interdisciplinary French Studies: Helena Duffy (Wrocław/Fernandes Fellow, Warwick), ‘We Are Not out of the Woods Yet: The Forest as Embodiment of Polish Holocaust Memory in Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida’Teams - see webpage ('More info') for link
Paweł Pawlikowski’s award-winning film Ida narrates the story of a Jewish girl who, on the eve of becoming a Catholic nun, learns of her Jewishness and of the tragic death of her parents and cousin. The family were murdered by a Polish peasant whose father had protected the family during the Holocaust. The only survivors of the carnage are Ida, whom the Pole entrusted to a Catholic priest, and Ida’s aunt, Wanda, who had joined communist resistance. After the war, the aunt becomes a magistrate in a Stalinist court and sends former members of the Armia Krajowa (National Army) resistance group to the gallows to eliminate a potential opposition to the Soviet-backed communist government.
Pawlikowski’s film clearly attempts to offer a complex picture of the Polish-Jewish wartime and postwar relations by, firstly, including both Polish rescuers and murders of Jews, and by foregrounding the mortal danger run by those harbouring Jews. In other words, while supporting the argument that Poles rescued Jews, Ida chimes with the belated attempts of scholars such as Jan Paweł Gross, Barbara Engelking, and Jan Grabowski to throw light on Polish implication in the Holocaust. In addition, the character of Wanda who is based on the real-life character of Halina Wolinska-Brus, serves to illustrate the popular belief regarding the central role of Jews in establishing and maintaining communist rule in postwar Poland (żydokomuna).
Adopting an ecocritical perspective, the paper focuses on the chronotope of the forest as embodiment and reinforcement of the duality of Polish responses to the persecution of Jews by the Nazis. It demonstrates that, while originally acting as a space of rescue, the forest becomes a space of murder. In the light of Eric Katz’s pioneering work in the discipline of Holocaust ecology and of the more recent work by scholars such as Agnieszka Kłos, Jacek Małczyński, and Mikołaj Smykowski, the paper also examines the environmental and cultural resonance of the transference of Jewish remains from the forest to a Jewish cemetery, which, due to the annihilation of Poland’s Jews, has become disused and is being reclaimed by nature.
Helena Duffy is Associate Professor in French at the University of Wrocław, Poland. In her career, she lectured French language and culture also at the University of Queensland, Australia, at the Université Blaise-Pascal, France, and at the University of Turku, Finland. Between 2016 and 2018 she held the prestigious Marie-Curie Research Fellowship at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she subsequently taught French and Comparative Literature. Her research interests lie with contemporary French culture, with a particular focus on the interplay between postmodern aesthetics and representations of the Holocaust. She is the author of two monographs, two edited volumes, and many journal articles and book chapters. Her publications include World War II in Andrei Makine’s Historiographic Metafiction (Brill, 2018) and The Holocaust in French Postmodern Fiction (Legenda, 2022).