The concept of postmemory has been advanced to account for some of the ways that the strong cultural and individual memories of trauma survivors impact on members of the next generation: their children. According to Marianne Hirsch (1997, 2012), post-memory generations have a special tie to history, which they “remember” through emotional and imaginative investment in the memories of others, whose stories, photographs, and day-to-day actions impart a strong sense of the life-changing, often life-threatening, circumstances they have lived through.
In this paper, I explore the relevance and possible limitations of the concept of postmemory for two auto/biographical works written by women of the Polish diaspora: Losing the Dead (2006) by Lisa Appignanesi and Åka Skridskor I Warszawa (Ice-skating in Warsaw) (2014) by Emilia Degenius. Born about 10 years apart (1946 and 1955), the two writers have some similarities, including Jewish backgrounds, parental and personal experiences of anti-Semitism, and emigration from post-war Poland with subsequent fraught relations to the Polish language. Appignanesi, writing in English, has become a cultural commentator and author with an interest in memory and psychoanalysis. Degenius immigrated alone to Sweden in 1972, where she joined her sister, and she has become a practicing psychoanalyst and author of two autobiographical works in Swedish.
The narratives of these women writers of the Polish diaspora straddle genres of autobiography, biography, family history, fiction, and memoir. In each account, the relationship to parental figures is of central importance. They each have double narrative strands, one that reconstructs the childhood past through the excavation of memory, and one that figures the adult narrator’s attempts to understand the past through return journeys to Poland, documentation, and interaction. I examine the texts’ formal and thematic characteristics in relation to postmemory.