In the summer and fall of 1998, ultranationalist Polish Catholics erected hundreds of crosses outside Auschwitz, setting off a fierce debate between Poles and Jews about the memory of the former death camp and the presence of Christian symbols in its vicinity. While this controversy had ramifications that extended well beyond Poland’s borders, Geneviève Zubrzycki sees it as a particularly crucial moment in the development of post-Communist Poland’s nationhood and its changing relationship to Catholicism.
In The Crosses of Auschwitz, Zubrzycki skillfully demonstrates how this episode crystallized latent social conflicts regarding the significance of Catholicism in defining “Polishness” and the role of anti-Semitism in the construction of Polish identity. Since the fall of Communism, the binding that has held Polish identity and Catholicism together has begun to erode, creating unease among ultranationalists who attempted to reinforce an ethno-Catholic vision of Poland and counter what they perceive as a Jewish monopoly over martyrdom by erecting the crosses at Auschwitz.
"Zubrzycki's book will become an indispensable reading on the topic of nationalism and religion--among other reasons, it is one of the first books to identify the impasse in the contemporary scholarship on the problem."