From Krakow to Bochum: The Journey Begins

by Klaudia Klimek

It is interesting how one submits to the context of the situation one finds himself in. I always considered myself someone who is open to new people, places and cultures. It is assumed that a sociologist should be, and should have the ability to not only perceive more in his surroundings but also be able to analyze the events concerning societies or groups, as well as weaving theories into general statements.

I am sitting in a plane, however, as I have many times before and quite frankly, I’m scared. Not because I am flying to Germany, though that may be part of it. More because of the context I have found myself in. I am flying not as a tourist or, as I call it, a seminar Jew, but as a migrant. Migration is quite an overused word in the European Union, but for the first time it concerns me not as a sociologist about to engage in discussion, but as a young person who is changing their place of residence. Let us leave the reasons for now. For the needs of this article let us accept that the reasons remain “personal”, otherwise instead of an interesting analysis we would have something like the diary of Bridget Jones and not at all like “50 Shades of Grey”. After all, in both cases I would have more readers, but let us get to the point, or in sociologist terms, the totality!

So, I am flying in the plane as a migrant now, a young person, a member of the Polish Jewish community, which on good days is called Central-European, on others, like in the times of late socialism is referred to as Eastern-European or simply post-communist. Though I don’t remember the days of rationed goods and I’m more a child of the era of supermarket escalators, thanks to my Jewish brethren from the so-called West, I am required to remember the times of the Iron Curtain, because they supposedly still have great influence over everything that happens in Poland. Therefore, I’m flying in the plane as a young migrant from Eastern Europe with ideas of relocating, learning German, adjusting to German society and finding my place in the local Jewish community of the city Bochum, or perhaps Dortmund, depending on whether or not I wish to travel by train for another 10 minutes. The last two notions seem the most difficult of my bundle of tasks to perform. I have no anxieties about not speaking German or lack of employment, but quite the opposite when it comes to the acceptance of the German nation that is to support you and the Jewish community there, which I assume, is different in every possible way from the one I hail from – Kraków.

As I fly, or rather, get ready to land, I decide that my assimilation in Germany will also serve higher purposes and will leave its mark. I set out to describe my future experiences, as well as analyze them, not to appear wise, but to provide information for all those who are interested in Jewish life in Europe and want to understand the artificial divide between Jews from the East and the West, the great anti-Semitism without Jews and everything else that one should know when boarding a plane in the context of a tourist, seminar Jew or a young migrant.

Since I will be writing current articles and will probably refute several stereotypes, experience changes of thinking and draw out theories, then the only thing I can allow myself at this time is to describe, in short, the community of Kraków, which I live in and express my anxiety about the one I’m heading to.

Now for a few logistical issues, in the interest of disclosure. Methods of research. It will not be conducted in a lab, rather I will follow in the footsteps of Bronislaw Malinowski, famous anthropologist, who observed tribes and devoted many journals to describing them. Like him, I will observe through participation, in other words, go straight into the lion’s den. However, my paragon won’t be Malinowski, but Goffman, a sociologist who I fell in love with for his theory of everyday life as theater. He put forth the theory that life in society is like theater and that each day is the premiere of a new play, with no dress rehearsal. I believe there is much truth and substance to this idea. The way we dress, speak and behave is like the work of an actor on life’s stage. The roles we take up and how we use them are a performance for the audience, that is our family, friends and the community we live in.

If one were to analyze the Jewish community in Kraków it could be metaphorically described as not a large theater, but one with many stages, with rather few actors when compared with the German theater. Each stage is assigned to one script and these differ from each other significantly. In practice, however, the cast is the same on each stage, only the director and photographer vary, which results in monotonous spectacles.

The Jewish theater of Kraków suffers from a lack of actors, so it advertises best it can, but instead of young, devoted people it attracts only extras, who want to make a quick buck or bask in the temporary glow of fame. I think most people will agree with me, that with such a crew, no play that will affect audiences can be realized. What’s more it won’t even be valuable to the players themselves. The Kraków theater of Jewish society is not a company, so it is funded primarily from donations, domestic and from abroad. When there was only one stage, about 15 years ago, competent management and the lack of competition brought value to all endeavors. Now when more actors have arrived, along with novelty from the West, the stages compete with each other in pursuit of profit, forgetting about true art and that we are all one theater and our strength lies in collective action and not the fragments of our own private interest.

The Polish administration continues to decrease funding for culture and the Jewish theater, so management must increasingly rely on foreign funding.

Unfortunately, the theater must often realize that culture in the 21st century needs to earn its keep, which leaves the directors with a dilemma. The play can either be saleable or valuable, the latter making it harder to reach philanthropists from abroad, who not out of ill will, but a lack of understanding of the cultural nuances and ideas will not want to finance it. Thus, the result is a commercial product that does not bring with it genuine acting and replaces reality with Hollywood-style special effects. An effective camera shot and the number of actors on stage increases, a frog’s perspective angle and the actor grows before our eyes, a few well prepared PR pieces, slick photographs and hype turn into superficial appreciation. Intimacy and underground projects are no longer in style. Flash and applause counts, with some fireworks here and there.

The backstage has been ruled for years by the same chairman – avoiding conflict, experienced, simply put – good. However, he is not independent. The concealed figures of eminence, directors of photography, stage assistants, influence his decisions and always have too much say. Some of these backstage characters forget that this theater features real people and not puppets, which can be controlled with strings. The chairman of the the theater doesn’t allow change, however, and continues to put individual originality and the will of innovation before tested special effects.

Occasionally on Polish television one will see reports of a famous figure dying and it is then said that “film won’t be the same without them”. I also have this impression when an elder member of our Kraków theater passes on. I can see how the stage changes irreversibly, filled with new work devoid of substance and depth. Someone might say that this sounds like the complaint of an old person, who longs for tradition and the past, but I am only 25 years old and yet I feel something is missing. I also participate in the creation of two stages, but I am not sure if I have influence on the overall quality of our theater. All I can do is describe the changes I notice, so that later a nostalgic viewer, looking for true art, can read about what once was and in a moment of great inspiration can go on to direct a play about how it was done before, performing for applause in recognition of a great acting craft and not expensive set pieces.

I leave the plane and walk toward the exit clearly marked “Ausgang”, blindly following the rest of the passengers. More about the German theater soon; I myself can’t wait.

Klaudia Klimek is the founder of the Jewrnalism Foundation. For 10 years Klaudia has been deeply involved in work for the Jewish community in Krakow and Poland. She is a sociologist who analizes, and a dreamer that aspires to change the image of European Jewish communities. After being involved in many projects she finally found her niche in the world by promoting young European Jews and their work.