Facing the phenomenon of “lucky Jews” in Poland 08.06.2021
Common Position of the participants of the Round Table entitled "Facing the phenomenon of “lucky Jews” in Poland"
of the participants of the Round Table entitled: Facing the phenomenon of “lucky Jews” in Poland
The emergence of figurines of Jews-neighbors is dated by ethnographers to the 19th century. Such figurines were carved in wood by hand and then painted. They usually depicted Jews in traditional costumes, reading a book, playing instruments or trading. Representatives of one-tenth of the then Polish society, mythologized and reduced to one subgroup, were not the only ones shown by the imaginations of folk artists — fair stalls were also abundant with figurines of Cracovians and highlanders, representatives of various professions, which were assigned secret meanings. Jews appeared in iconography and folklore as inherent neighbors; beekeepers would erect hives in the shape of bearded figures wearing the kippah, structures that brought food, abundance and happiness.
The Holocaust changed the Polish social landscape and the figurative representations themselves. Jew figurines timidly returned to museum competitions, to Cepelia and to stalls in Krakow following World War II, though in a completely different symbolic context marked by loss. They made their return for good as a reflection of the pre-war tradition in the 1970s, influenced by competitions for traditional works made by former creators or visual artists.
A figurine of a Jew holding a coin or a purse appeared in Poland in the commercial offer of souvenir shops and stalls in the 1990s, during the period of rapid transformation, and quickly became a symbol of prosperity and a lucky charm that permeated the souvenir industry and is now available in virtually all souvenir shops and fairs in Krakow. This sort of industrially made figurines and images also began to appear at Emaus — the Easter fair in Krakow.
With the appearance of the “Jew with a penny”, vendors offering traditional Jewish figurines at Emaus stalls began to advertise them with slogans using the association — Lucky Jew. This way, the common consciousness developed a misconception that the phenomenon of the “Jew with a penny” is an old tradition in Krakow originating from Emaus. With time, wood was replaced by modeling clay, authentic handicraft — by mass production. Turned upside down every Saturday as per instructions, so as to magically transfer the money attracted by him into the owner's pocket, post-transformation images of Jews with a penny were supposed to bring you success. Meanwhile, what is supposed to bring luck to some, instead opens unhealed wounds for others and recalls the most painful associations with the infamous, anti-Semitic propaganda reinforcing the stereotype of the greedy Jewish financier.
Thus, the “Lucky Jew” lies in the wide spectrum of discriminatory attitudes, where ridicule, disgrace, caricature of characters bear the hallmarks of anti-Semitism. Representatives of the artistic community, MEPs, academics associated with the departments of ethnology, sociology, history and Judaism, city activists, Jews from Poland and around the world wrote their appeals regarding these controversial souvenirs. The phenomenon has been the subject of a number of scientific papers, studies, conferences, as well as festivals and artistic interventions. A few years back, the phenomenon was documented by an exhibition prepared by the Canadian researcher Erika Lehrer at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. The city also received extensive correspondence from tourists outraged and moved by the presence of such items in a city that so painfully experienced the Holocaust and the loss of a significant portion of its population. The voices of criticism are joined by notorious expert opinions, e.g. by Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, press publications and statements by representatives of the literary world and columnists.
The first round table meeting on this subject was organized in November 2020 by Villa Decius, the FestivALT Association, the Czulent Jewish Association and the Autonomia Foundation. The images of “a Jew with a penny” were also one of the major topics of talks at the Krakow Multicultural Festival. The conclusions from these meetings and discussions are clear. The presence of such items, as well as the inscriptions on the stalls: “Kikes”, “Lucky Kikes”, “Kike for 5 PLN” definitely has negative social and cultural impacts, and consequently damages the image of Krakow.
The next step involved conducting consultations between the city representatives, cultural institutions and the community representatives and organizing the next round table meeting.
The meeting, organized by the Villa Decius Institute for Culture and the Mayor of Krakow's Representative for Culture, was held with the participation of representatives of the Krakow City Council, Departments of Culture and National Heritage, Department of Tourism, Department of Social Communication, Department of Administration, city and road administrators, representatives of the scientific community, museums, congregations and trade and craft associations, museums (including the Museum of Krakow and the Ethnographic Museum) and representatives of the Jewish community.
A number of opinions were presented at the meeting, confirming the clearly anti-Semitic aspect of the figurine of a Jew with a coin.
It was established that the presence of figurines of a Jew with a coin in the offer of souvenir shops and fairs is clearly perceived as evidence of a lack of reflection and sensitivity in the area of the so-called troublesome heritage. They are also compared by the Jewish diaspora from around the world as well as many scholars to such anti-Semitic phenomena as the burning of an effigy of a Jew, the practice of beating Judas, or the presence of Jew caricatures in far-right pamphlets and publications.
The participants of the Round Table declared that the city, which lost almost all of its Jewish inhabitants as a result of World War II, must take all possible steps to prevent the presence of this phenomenon in public space. The inappropriateness of this was emphasized on account of the complexity of mutual Polish-Jewish relations, as well as due to the cultural and social effects as well as the city’s image and reputation. The parties committed to taking all measures necessary to counteract the phenomenon through close cooperation of individual units and departments of the City Hall, activities in the field of information, communication and education of all parties, as well as social involvement in work on the subject of troublesome heritage.
Only thanks to the cooperation of entrepreneurs, tourist organizations, guides, city representatives, educational institutions, cultural institutions, especially museums, is it possible to sensitize the local community to the consequences of irresponsibly offering anti-Semitic assortment.
Moreover, an urgent need was emphasized to promote and support traditional craftsmanship among sellers, stall owners and fair organizers in the spirit of understanding the complexity of the phenomenon and the emotions it raises. The owners of commercial infrastructure or event organizers who rent stands and the annual recruitment of exhibitors have the opportunity to make decisions regarding the assortment and its origin.
The participants of the meeting call for reflection on this topic and for taking all possible measures to incite a positive change in the way of thinking and sensitize the community to said phenomenon, resulting in a change in our common reality.
This phenomenon is socially and culturally harmful, difficult to accept and painful to some of our inhabitants, as well as a significant number of tourists visiting our city in search of the truth about the times of coexistence and later extermination of their ancestors. A city that has experienced such a tremendous tragedy of the Holocaust by the Nazi occupiers must be aware that certain items offered for sale are seen through the filter of these tragic events.
Only cooperation and dialogue will make it possible to change attitudes and withdraw from both the sale of offensive figurines and unacceptable inscriptions or markings on stands, considered anti-Semitic elements, with a clearly pejorative tint.
The participants of the meeting decided that the events organized in urban space are a showcase; they are also an element of our culture and tradition, through the prism of which we are perceived not only by residents, but also tourists and guests, whose opinion translates into the international image and potential, including the tourist potential of the City of Krakow.
Hence, all participants of the meeting vowed to take all possible measures within their areas of influence to sensitize, prevent the development of and eliminate from the public space a phenomenon unacceptable in the context of a city with such a complex and difficult history
Villa Decius, Krakow, April 22, 2021
Signatories (in alphabetical order):
1. Bogdan Achimescu - Director of the Doctoral School, Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
2. Monika Bielak - exhibition designer
3. Barbara Bieniek – President of the “Secesja” Association of Professional Krakow City Guides
4. Izabela Biniek – Director of the Krakow Cultural Forum
5. Berenika Błaszak – advisory team for the Jewish heritage of Krakow
6. Izabela Błaszczyk – Director of the Krakow Festival Office
7. Krzysztof Cieciński – Polania Foundation, Krakow and Reconciliation Foundation, Kielce
8. Michał Czerski – Director of IMAGO Centrum Sztuki Ludowej Sp. z o.o.
9. Monika Chylaszek – Director of the Social Communication Department of the Krakow City Hall
10. Tomasz Daros – Chairman of the Promotion and Tourism Committee of the Krakow City Council
11. Eugeniusz Duda – senior curator, retired, Historical Museum of the City of Krakow
12. Ignacy Dudkiewicz – editorial office of the Kontakt Magazine
13. Jason Francisco – Emory University, Atlanta / FestivALT
14. Agnieszka Fryś - Antiques Józefa
15. Nina Gabryś – Representative of the Mayor of Krakow for Equality Policy
16. Edyta Gawron – Institute of Jewish Studies of the Jagiellonian University
17. Anna Grabowska – Director of the Podgórze Cultural Center
18. Marcin Hanczakowski – Director of the Roads Authority of the City of Krakow
19. Karolina Harazim – PR and communication specialist, FestivALT
20. Tadeusz Jakubowicz – Chairman of the Jewish Religious Community in Krakow
21. Małgorzata Jantos – Jagiellonian University, councilor of the City of Krakow
22. Ewa Kamińska-Bużałek - President of the Management Board of the Łódź Women's Trail Foundation
23. Elżbieta Kantor – Director of the Tourism Department of the Krakow City Hall
24. Dominika Kasprowicz – Director of the Villa Decius Institute for Culture
25. Adam Kaźmierczyk – Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Jagiellonian University
26. Piotr Kempf – Director of the City Parks Department in Krakow
27. Janusz Kowalski – President of the Małopolska Chamber of Craft and Entrepreneurship in Krakow
28. Aneta i Karol Kuberscy - Szalom Gallery
29. Tomasz Kuncewicz – Director, Auschwitz Jewish Center
30. Anna Kurzejowska – Head of the Department, Faculty of Culture and National Heritage
31. Elżbieta Kusina – President of the Federation of Tourist Guide Associations
32. Piotr Kwapisiewicz – President of the Czulent Jewish Association, member of the Interdisciplinary Team for cooperation for the implementation of the "Open Krakow" Program, advisory team for the Jewish heritage of Krakow
33. Piotr Laskowski – Polish Chamber of Tourism, Małopolska Branch
34. Erica Lehrer – Concordia University, Montreal
35. Nora Lerner
36. Maria Lempart – head of the Zwierzyniec House, branch of the Krakow Museum
37. Zdzisław Mach – Institute of European Studies, Jagiellonian University
38. Anna Makówka-Kwapisiewicz – Czulent Jewish Association
39. Adam Musiał - educator on the history and culture of Jews, translator
40. Jakub Niewiadomski – editorial office of the Kontakt Magazine
41. Michał Niezabitowski – Director of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow
42. Kazimierz Nowak – Chairman of the Board of IMAGO Centrum Sztuki Ludowej Sp. z o.o.
43. Jakub Nowakowski – Director of the Galicia Jewish Museum
44. Izabela Olejnik - Member of the Management Board of the Łódź Trail of Women Foundation
45. Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz – senior curator, Ethnographic Museum in Krakow
46. Robert Piaskowski – Representative of the Mayor of Krakow for Culture
47. Łucja Piekarska-Duraj – assistant professor, UNESCO Chair for Holocaust Education
48. Katarzyna Piszczkiewicz – project coordinator, Ethnographic Museum in Krakow
49. Tomasz Popiołek – Director of the Administrative Department of the Krakow City Hall
50. Michael Rubenfeld – Co-Director of FestivALT
51. Magda Rubenfeld Koralewska – Co-director of FestivALT, advisory team for the Jewish heritage of Krakow
52. Andrzej Siwek – National Heritage Institute, Head of the Local Department in Krakow
53. Bogusław Sonik – Member of the Polish Parliament
54. Artur Wabik – advisory team for the Jewish heritage of Krakow
55. Joanna Wawrzyniak – assistant professor, Faculty of Sociology, University of Warsaw
56. Katarzyna Wysocka – Director of the Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation of the Nicolaus Copernicus University
57. Magdalena Zych – curator, Ethnographic Museum in Krakow