If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Women's Prison in Communist Poland (Hardback)Anna Muller (author)
Hardback 312 Pages / Published: 11/01/2018
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Drawing on autobiographical writings, oral histories, interrogation protocols, and cell spy reports, If the Walls Could Speak focuses on the lives of women in prison in postwar communist Poland. Some were jailed for their alleged collaboration with the Nazis during the war, some for postwar activities in various civil as well as quasi-military groups, still others for allegedly dubious activities on the basis of their relationships with those already imprisoned. In some cases, there was some evidence of their anti-state activities; in many others, the accusations were absurd and based on cumbersome definitions of "anti-state." Anna Muller shows how these women struggled to resist identifying themselves as "prisoners" and regain their voices through a dialogue between the "self," a hostile prison world, and the world outside, which, as time passed, became increasingly menacing. The prison system in postwar Poland functioned as a tool to subjugate society and silence or destroy enemies-anti-communists, but also committed communists. Arrests, trials, and prison sentences directly and indirectly affected tens of thousands of people. Imprisonment stigmatized both prisoners and their families, inspiring fear and insecurity. Out of fear, worry for their loved ones, or a need to act, women prisoners took on different roles and personalities to protect themselves and create a semblance of normality, despite abuses and prison confinement. They used words to (re)create themselves during an interrogation; they used their senses to orient themselves in the spatial organization of the prison and to create a feeling of security; they used their physicality as a confirmation of their gender identity and a means of exerting pressure on the authorities; and they attempted to build a communal cultural, social, religious, and educational life by drawing on patterns they had acquired in their lives outside of prison. Following the trajectory of women's life stories-from the moment of interrogation, through the attempt to create themselves in a cell, to the post-prison reordering of their old lives-this book reveals how the prison cell in postwar Poland became a laboratory of human heterogeneity, of reconstruction, and reinvention of the self, and how life in a Stalinist prison adds to our understanding of coercion and resistance under totalitarian regimes.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Number of pages: 312
Weight: 640 g
Dimensions: 243 x 164 x 25 mm
"In a compelling and poignant narrative, Anna Muller shows how a group of women in the most difficult of circumstances were able to resist governmental oppression and assert their human dignity. This is history as it should be told and remembered."--Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan
"A powerful, original, and vivid story of Polish female political prisoners, who are defined not by their status as oppressed victims of communism, but by their humanity and individuality. Muller guides the reader through the drama of imprisonment, interrogation, and gendered rituals of everyday life in a cell with sensitivity and grace."--Malgorzata Fidelis, author of Women, Communism, and Industrialization in Postwar Poland
"Anna Muller's is an extraordinary study of women's prison experience in Stalinist Poland. It uses interviews, archival materials and deep historical insight to challenge the current model of presenting the lives and suffering of the 'doomed soldiers.' In an original and nuanced way, Muller illuminates the modes of survival and the post-prison dealing with the past by the neglected category of women-political prisoners. The book is original, very well written, insightful and compassionate."--Irena Grudzinska-Gross, Princeton University
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