Reconciliation through the Righteous: The Narratives of Heroic Helpers as a Fulfillment of Emotional Needs in Polish−Jewish Intergroup Contact


  • This research was supported from a Ministry of Science and Higher Education IUVENTUS PLUS grant to the first author and BST budgetary funds of Faculty of Psychology, University of Warsaw. We are grateful to Jarosław Ziółkowski, Mateusz Hładki and Andrzej Folwarczny from the Forum for Dialogue among Nations for their efforts in organizing this intervention program and evaluation.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Michal Bilewicz, Faculty of Psychology, University of Warsaw, Stawki 5/7, 00-183 Warszawa, Poland [e-mail:].


Postwar Polish−Jewish relations are heavily affected by divergent narratives about the Holocaust. Debates about the role of Poles as passive bystanders or perpetrators during the Holocaust have deeply influenced mutual perceptions of Poles and Jews. Previous research has shown that historical issues raised during Polish−Jewish encounters inhibit positive consequences of intergroup contact, mostly due to frustrated emotional needs related to past genocide. The aim of the present intervention was to reconcile young Poles and Israelis by presenting narratives that could change stereotypical thinking about the past. Our results indicate that the narratives of historical rescuers of Jews during WWII allowed overcoming the negative impact of the past on intergroup contact by fulfilling frustrated needs for acceptance among Polish participants. The article discusses the potential role of the heroic helpers’ narrative for reconciliation after mass violence, as it may prevent entitative categorizations of groups as victims, perpetrators, and bystanders.