At the beginning of October, our team delved into the narrative of Menachem Kaiser’s “Plunder. A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure” (it was translated by Monika Skowron and published in Polish as “Grabież. Historia majątku rodzinnego i nazistowskiego skarbu” by Ośrodek Karta). This thought-provoking autobiographical essay presents the author’s journey as a “memory tourist”, i.e. someone trying to persuade the place to reveal the buried secrets and find the myth of a place, someone trying to find and speak to ghosts. In Kaiser’s case, he wants to find a house in Sosnowiec (in Upper Silesia, Poland), supposedly belonging to his grandfather in the past, before World War II. The main theme is Kaiser’s search to unravel the story of his grandfather in the context of the complex past of the region and of the people living there. Kaiser trusts that his search will not be fruitless and will help him understand his own roots.
Our team explored the challenges Kaiser faced as he sought to understand his family’s history, but also himself. We followed him, as he tried to reclaim his grandfather’s tenement house while dealing with the consequences of the war and the complexities of his identity. The team considered what aspects of “Plunder” could be applied to our work and how the lessons from Kaiser’s exploration of family history and cultural heritage might expand our understanding of searching for traces of the past.
Overall, reading “Plunder” together was a valuable meeting. We could explore such themes as the multilayered history of Silesia as an example of a post-displacement region, the issue of mixed identity, and the intricate connections between past and present. Moreover, we have learned from Menachem Kaiser’s travels as an example of semi-ethnographic writing. Therefore, we encourage you to read our blog entries, which show how we try to research and understand the relationship between the past and the present.