Jewish polacos, Argentina, and the Yiddishland: negotiating transnational identities, 1914-1939




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My dissertation examines the social and cultural repercussions of Jewish emigration from Poland to Argentina in the 1920s and 1930s. I look at the processes of imagining and perceiving Argentina in prewar Poland, as well as analyze how Polish Jews redefined and negotiated their relations with the new and former homeland after relocating to Argentina. By examining Jewish press reports, Yiddish travelogues, intellectual discourses, immigrant literature and archives of ethnic institutions, I reconstruct the multifaceted and complex meanings of Poland for Jewish immigrants who lived in Argentina, but preserved their social, cultural and discursive ties with Poland. My dissertation brings together the impact of Yiddish-centered ethno-national revival, the entanglements of diasporism and civic promises offered by Argentina in order to find ways of understanding the complex experiences of Jews migrating from Poland to Argentina. My dissertation suggests a multi-directional and global reading of Jewish migration, and underlines the transnational cultural links between Eastern Europe and Latin America fostered by migrating Jews.Between 1918 and 1939, around 60,000 Polish Jews established a new home in Argentina. Joining a group of Jewish-Polish immigrants who arrived in Argentina prior to the reestablishment of an independent Poland in 1918, they formed a strong ethnic community that quickly became very Argentine, but at the same time voiced their unique Jewish-Polish character. In the interwar period, concepts of Jewish ethnonational revival centered around the Yiddish language were also transferred by migrants to Argentina. At the time, Poland was the main center of Jewish political, social and cultural life, and Argentine Jews of Polish origin saw themselves in a constant relationship and dialogue with Jewish Poland, imagined as the heartland of Yiddish civilization. As ethnic leaders put it, they perceived themselves as a continuation, a colony or a new branch of a global Yiddishland. I believe it is appropriate to use the term re-yiddishization to define a temporary comeback of Yiddish culture in post- 1918 Argentina, including on the part of the earlier argentinized generation. The political, national and cultural unrest that Polish Jews brought to Argentina co-shaped the character of the community, converting it into an aspiring actor on the map of the Yiddishland. My dissertation examines the development of this process, inquiring about its origins, stages and consequences.My study shows that the development of networks within the Yiddishland was performed in complementarity with formative Jewish-Argentine identities that were shaped under the influence of the unifying powers of Argentine nationalism. The Argentine nation-state, its melting pot policies and its efforts at nationalizing immigrants challenged the diasporic framework by offering Jewish immigrants the promise of secular universal citizenship and national inclusion. In early twentieth century Argentina, the local national discourse questioned the ethno-national identification with Jews in other parts of the world. Jews were supposed to (and many wanted to) be foremost Argentine, hence diasporic Jewish-national alternatives were approached with ambiguity by nationalist politicians and those Jews who grew up with these assumptions. Despite the discrepancies between Argentine national belonging and diasporic Jewish identifications, both phenomena proved to be compatible and amenable to cross-pollination in early twentieth century Argentina.My dissertation approaches Jewish migration to Argentina as a continuous process that took place on both sides of the Atlantic. I treat it as a socio-cultural dialogue on Jewish ethnicity, modernity and diasporism. Jewish-Polish immigration to Argentina and the founding of the Jewish-Polish community in the Southern Cone led to the development of a sense of transnational Jewish-Polish self-understanding. For a number of immigrants, the fact of living outside of Jewish Poland did not mean weakening or repressing their Polish Jewishness. Conversely, in Argentina, their distinct Jewish-Polish experience and identity was brought to a new, manifold expression. Jewish emigration from Poland to Argentina serves as a case study of how ethnicity evolved and was transformed among migrants and their children, and the dynamics that emerged between putting down roots in a new country and commitments to the Old Country. I focus on a generation of migrants, Polish Jews, who relocated to Argentina and represent a transitory stage within the evolution of individual and collective ethnic identities.I argue that ethno-cultural Yiddishism served as a platform that allowed diasporic communities to gather around shared ethnic goals and helped to shape modern Jewish cultural and ethno-national identities. The Yiddish language was a tool that allowed the transmission not only of cultural, but also of political and social contents across the borders. Yiddish became the lingua franca of most Polish Jews around the world, and thus a tool that allowed the circulation of cultural contents and ideas, which afterwards began to also sprout in Argentina. Above all, cultural Yiddishism started to play an increasing role and some Argentine Jews considered their new homeland as a part of something bigger a transnational Yiddishland. New bonds of intellectual, cultural and discursive exchange and dialogue made the connection between both diasporas even stronger. This change was visible in the heated intellectual discussions about the place of Jews in Argentina and their relations with the Old World. Interbellum Argentina experienced both the development of Yiddish print culture and schooling, while witnessing the growing inclusion of Jews into the nation. Argentine Jews sought ways of combining Jewishness with Argentineness.




Dissertation im Rahmen eines Cotutelle-Vertrages mit der Universität Tel Aviv

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