Writing American Literature in Polish: Post-Holocaust Jewish Identities in Jadwiga Maurer's Short Stories

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Journal of Jewish Identities



One of the definitional aspects of stories about immigration published in the United States is their authors' acquisition of English, a process that many of them describe as a painful translation of identity.2 We are most familiar with accounts of those who come to the United States, acquire English, and then use it to tell their stories of uprooting, passage and arrival. Fortunately, since Leah Garrett's observation eight years ago that "discussions of immigrant narratives rarely include any non-English writings," more studies have appeared to help us understand perspectives of those authors who, by not writing in English, "challenge the monolinguistic 'melting pot.'"3 Literary scholars like Hana Wirth-Nesher, Werner Sollors, Orm Øverland, Martha Cutter and Lawrence Rosenwald have argued convincingly for the inclusion of multiple languages within American Literature, and especially within ethnic and immigrant literatures. Such multilingual considerations have included examinations of texts published in languages other than English (Sollors), analyses of literary strategies like bilingual word plays or linguistic passing (Wirth Nesher), and studies of translation as a "transethnic" literary trope (Cutter).

This article builds upon these scholars' challenges to American Literature's monolingual assumptions by adding the voice of another immigrant author who writes in her native language. Jadwiga Maurer, who has lived and worked in the U.S. for over fifty years and who is quite fluent in English, writes short stories in Polish.4 While she is familiar to Slavic Studies scholars, Maurer is not well known outside of Poland and the Polish Diaspora as a fiction writer. With the exception of her short story, "Żebrak" (The Beggar), none of her work has been translated into English.5 But as a Polish-Jewish writer who has resided in the United States for over half a century and yet still uses Polish as the language of her short stories, Maurer's life and work emerge as emblematic in discussions of displacement, language and home. Her stories focus on representations of the multiple cultural transitions and translations experienced by Holocaust survivors who left Poland after World War II ended. As Maurer's stories clarify, Holocaust survivors are not only physically separated from the land of their birth and embedded in a foreign language and culture, but their homes have been destroyed and thus relegated exclusively to the realm of memory and, of [End Page 25] course, literature. Rebuilding their lives in the U.S. meant that survivors had to negotiate the traumatic legacy of the Holocaust while they endured the daily complexities of cultural and linguistic translation. By offering such complex narratives of ethnic identity formation and expression in the context of wartime and postwar displacements, Maurer's writings highlight the unique status of survivors' stories within the immigrant oeuvre.

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