Silent Traces and Deserted Places
Materiality and Silence on Poland’s Eastern Border
This article explores how silence is held and transmitted through the materiality of deserted and abandoned places along the Polish frontier; and the generative role that silencing plays in local practices of tolerance. The article discusses two specific sites of silence in a town on Poland’s eastern border. Both sites were abandoned or destroyed at the same time, and are part of a larger landscape of religious and ethnic conflict in the area. This history of conflict is managed through small everyday acts of forgetting, minimising and silencing. Yet, the two sites at the centre of this article demonstrate that silencing is an incomplete process. The fragmented materiality of the two places undercuts local silences, actively invoking experiences and memories of the Holocaust. The objects missing and present in these haunted places are too inconsequential to be considered ruins – one site is notable only because it is an empty field. Yet these sites and objects act as powerful silent traces. Traces, as Napolitano (2015) has observed, are knots of history with an ambiguous auratic presence, located between memory and forgetting, repression and amplification. Traces conjure that which we can and that which we cannot say. The deserted places of the town draw attention to the silences that conviviality is built upon. This article considers how paying close attention to the specific silences concerning ‘unthinkable’ histories can reveal the power relations embedded in the process of history making and community building not just nationally, but also at the local level (Trouillot 1995).
Brown, Kate. 2004. A Biography of No Place. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Buzalka, Juraj. 2007. Nation and Religion: the Politics of Commemoration in South-East Poland. Münster: LIT Verlag.
Das, Veena. 1995. Critical Events. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.
Das, Veena. 1997. “Language and Body: Transactions in the Constructions of Pain”. In Social Suffering, edited by Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das and Margarete Lock, 67–92. Berkley: University of California Press.
Das, Veena. 2000. “The Act of Witnessing: Violence, Poisonous Knowledge, and Subjectivity.” In Violence and subjectivity, edited by Pamela Reynolds, Veena Das, Arthur Kleinman and Mamphela Ramphele, 205–25. Berkley: University of California Press.
Das, Veena. 2006. Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. Berkley: University of California Press.
del Pilar Blanco, María and Esther Peeren. 2013. “Introduction: Conceptualizing Spectralities.” In The Spectralities Reader: Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory, edited by María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren, 1–27. London: Bloomsbury.
Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. London: Routledge.
Dobroszycki, Lucjan and Jeffery Gurock. 1994. The Holocaust in the Soviet Union: Studies and Sources on the Destruction of the Jews in the Nazi-occupied Territories of the USSR, 1941-45. London: Taylor Francis.
Głowacka-Grajper, Małgorzata. 2015. “Memory of Lost Local Homelands: Social Transmission of Memory of the Former Polish Eastern Borderlands in Contemporary Poland.” In Life Writing and Politics of Memory in Eastern Europe, edited by Simona Mitroiu, 164–182. Palgrave Macmillan: London.
Główny Urząd Statystyczny. [Statistics Poland] 2015. Polskiej, Rocznik Statystyczny Rzeczypospolitej. [Statistical
Yearbook of the Republic of Poland 2015]. Warsaw: Zakład Wydawnictw Statystycznych.
Hann, Chris. 1996. “Ethnic Cleansing in Eastern Europe; Poles and Ukrainians Beside the Curzon Line.” Nations and Nationalism 2 (3): 389–406.
Henig, David. 2012. “‘Knocking on My Neighbours Door’: on Metamorphoses of Sociality in Rural Bosnia.” Critique of Anthropology 32 (1): 3–19.
Joyce, Aimée. 2019. “‘When the Orthodox Went Away’: Histories of Displacement and Extermination on the Polish/Belarusian Border.” Anthropological Quarterly 92 (2): 427–450.
Joyce, Aimée. 2017. “‘Dying Out’: Conversion and the Complexity of Neighbourliness on the Polish Belarussian Border.” History and Anthropology 28 (1): 110–130.
Kaczynski, Jaroslaw. 2011. “Raport o Stanie Rzeczypospolitej.” https://wpolityce.pl/polityka/111772-jaroslaw-kaczynski-raport-o-stanie-rzeczypospolitej-tylko-u-nas-fragmenty-programowej-publikacjiprezesa-pis accessed 08.11.2021
Kapralski, Sławomir. 2001. “Battlefields of Memory: Landscapes and Identity in Polish Jewish Relations.” History and Memory 13(2): 35–58.
Napolitano, Valentina. 2015. “Anthropology and Traces.” Anthropological Theory 15 (1): 47–67.
Nowak, Jacek, Sławomir Kapralski and Darius Niedźwiedzki. 2018. On the Banality of Forgetting: Tracing the Memory of Jewish Culture in Poland. Berlin: Peter Lang.
Pasieka, Agnieszka. 2014 “Neighbors: About the Multiculturalization of the Polish Past.” East European Politics and Societies 28 (1): 225–251.
Pasieka, Agnieszka. 2015. Hierarchy and Pluralism: Living Religious Difference in Catholic Poland. London: Springer.
Prusin, Alexander V. 2010. The Lands Between: Conflict in the East European Borderlands, 1870-1992. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Spector, Shmuel and Geoffrey Wigoder. 2001. The Encyclopaedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: K-Sered, Vol. 2. New York: New York University Press.
Straczuk, Justyna. 2012 “Local practices of European Identity on the New Eastern Borders of the EU.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of Europe, edited by Ullrich Kockel, Máiréad Nic Craith, and Jonas Frykman, 199–211. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Straczuk, Justyna. 2013. Cmentarz i stół: Pogranicze prawosławno-katolickie w Polsce i na Białorusi [Cemetery and Table: Orthodox-Catholics in the Polish and Belarusian Borderlands]. Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika.
Tokarska-Bakir, Joanna. 2004. Rzeczy Mgliste: Eseje i studia [Hazy Things: Essays and Research]. Sejny: Pogranicze.
Trouillot, Michel Rolph. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press.
Zarycki, Tomasz. 2011 “Eastern Poland in a Centre-periphery Perspective.” In Strategic Issues of the Development of the Lublin Region, edited by Marian Stefański, 95-112 Lublin: University of Economy and Innovation.
Zarycki, Tomasz. 2014 Ideologies of Eastness in Central and Eastern Europe. London: Routledge.
Copyright (c) 2021 Ethnologia Polona
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.