Ghost Citizens: Jewish Return to a Postwar City
The poignant story of Holocaust survivors who returned to their hometown in Poland and tried to pick up the pieces of a shattered world.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the lives of Polish Jews were marked by violence and emigration. But some of those who had survived the Nazi genocide returned to their hometowns and tried to start their lives anew. Lukasz Krzyzanowski recounts the story of this largely forgotten group of Holocaust survivors. Focusing on Radom, an industrial city about sixty miles south of Warsaw, he tells the story of what happened throughout provincial Poland as returnees faced new struggles along with massive political, social, and legal change.
Non-Jewish locals mostly viewed the survivors with contempt and hostility. Many Jews left immediately, escaping anti-Semitic violence inflicted by new communist authorities and ordinary Poles. Those who stayed created a small, isolated community. Amid the devastation of Poland, recurring violence, and bureaucratic hurdles, they tried to start over. They attempted to rebuild local Jewish life, recover their homes and workplaces, and reclaim property appropriated by non-Jewish Poles or the state. At times they turned on their own. Krzyzanowski recounts stories of Jewish gangs bent on depriving returnees of their prewar possessions and of survivors shunned for their wartime conduct.
The experiences of returning Jews provide important insights into the dynamics of post-genocide recovery. Drawing on a rare collection of documents—including the postwar Radom Jewish Committee records, which were discovered by the secret police in 1974—Ghost Citizens is the moving story of Holocaust survivors and their struggle to restore their lives in a place that was no longer home.
Praise for Ghost Citizens
“They came back from the war, from the camps and from exile, only to face hostility, indifference, and loss. Yet some Polish Jews did decide to return to their devastated hometowns. Lukasz Krzyzanowski describes what happened to a forgotten group of Holocaust survivors who tried to rebuild their lives in a place where they were now ‘ghost citizens,’ alive but often unwelcome.”—Anne Applebaum, author of Iron Curtain
“From a brilliant young historian comes this insightful look at the immediate postwar period, a stellar example of what is known as the New School of Holocaust Studies in Poland. A must-read for anyone interested in the Holocaust and its aftermath.”—Jan T. Gross, author of Neighbors
“Utilizing a rare collection of Jewish community documents that survived World War II by a fluke, Krzyzanowski recreates the world of lawlessness, isolation, and intimidation experienced by Jewish Holocaust survivors who returned to the Polish city of Radom after the war. He deals with a sensitive topic with balance, empathy, and courage, adopting an appropriate tone that eschews accusatory histrionics on the one hand and distorted apologetics on the other.”—Christopher R. Browning, author of Remembering Survival
“This compelling book takes us inside the daily struggles of Jews returning home in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Krzyzanowski shows that surviving was not only about making it through the camps but also dealing with the fear, loneliness, and violence of the postwar world.”—Tim Cole, author of Holocaust Landscapes