This series of YIVO programs presents a new Polish school of research into the Holocaust and antisemitism informed by critical theory and cultural critique. Initiated by Jan Tomasz Gross’s book, Neighbors (2000), this new school proposes a new frame of analysis of the Polish share of responsibility for the destruction of Polish Jewry. It revisits the endeavor of khurbn forshung conducted in Poland by Holocaust survivor scholars. First impeded then destroyed by Polish bottom-up and top-down antisemitism, this postwar effort reappears as a reference point and an object of critical analysis as well.
Research into the material facts and cultural representations (imagery, narratives, ideas) of mainstream Polish Holocaust discourse reveals how much the facts were produced by the representations and stemmed from sources that have been neither deconstructed nor deactivated. A meticulous reconstruction of the historical process, its mechanisms and stakes, causes and effects, allows for a more complete grounding of Jewish social and cultural history. Providing context to the events and situating them within a sociocultural continuum – between their eve and aftermath – also enables a sharper understanding of the present: the legal repression of Holocaust scholars, the co-optation of existing institutions, the creation of new institutions, and the mobilization of distortion and propaganda to fight against the results of historical research and through this effort to deny the Polish realities of the Holocaust.
The Dancer and the Holocaust: A Biography of Pola Nireńska
- WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2022 | 1:00pm ET | On Zoom
- Weronika Kostyrko, Tancerka i Zagłada. Historia Poli Nireńskiej [The dancer and the Holocaust. The history of Pola Nireńska], (Warsaw: Czerwone i Czarne, 2019)
In her book Tancerka i Zagłada (The Dancer and the Holocaust), Weronika Kostyrko uncovers the story of dancer Pola Nireńska (1910-1992) whose career was repeatedly interrupted by antisemitism and fascism. Born Pola Nirensztajn in Warsaw, Nireńska lived and worked in Poland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Great Britain before leaving for America. Kostyrko’s biography intertwines the story of an outstanding Jewish dancer, the history of the avant-garde in Europe and the United States, and the story of the Holocaust in Poland. Kostyrko’s book also sheds light on an unknown chapter in the biography of Jan Karski, a member of the Polish prewar establishment and wartime underground, with new revelations on Karski's attitude towards Jews.
Kostyrko retraced Nireńska’s life and legacy on the basis of interviews with the last witnesses living in the USA, with Nireńska’s relatives in Israel, as well as correspondence and archives scattered on three continents. Nireńska herself did not leave diaries, private letters, nor do we have a film record of her dance. Her name survives in The Jan Karski and Pola Nireńska Award, awarded annually by YIVO.
Join YIVO for a discussion of this important new biography featuring Kostyrko in conversation with YIVO’s Executive Director Jonathan Brent.
Breaking the Frame: New School of Polish-Jewish Studies
- WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2023 | 1:00pm ET | On Zoom
- Breaking the Frame. New School of Polish-Jewish Studies, edited by Irena Grudzińska Gross, Konrad Matyjaszek, introduced by Jan T. Gross (Berlin: Peter Lang Verlag, 2022).
Irena Sendler: In Hiding
- WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15, 2023 | 1:00pm ET | On Zoom
- Anna Bikont, Sendlerowa. W ukryciu [Irena Sendler. In hiding] (Wołowiec: Czarne, 2017).
The Guardians of Fate
- WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 2023 | 1:00pm ET | On Zoom
- Bożena Keff, Strażnicy fatum [The guardians of fate] (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2020).
Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in German Occupied Poland
- WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 2023 | 1:00pm ET | On Zoom *Night Without End. The Fate of Jews in German Occupied Poland, edited by Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2022).
Philo-Semitic Violence: Poland’s Jewish Past in New Polish Narratives
- WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21, 2023 | 1:00pm ET | On Zoom
- Elżbieta Janicka and Tomasz Żukowski, Philo-Semitic Violence. Poland’s Jewish past in new Polish narratives (Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).
Helena Datner, historian and sociologist, is the author of works on the social history of Polish Jews and Polish antisemitism with, among them a book “Ta i tamta strona. Żydowska inteligencja Warszawy drugiej połowy XIX wieku” [This and that side. The Jewish intelligentsia of Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century] (2007) which deconstructed the myth that the Polish intelligentsia treated Jews as equal so as they could enter its ranks on an equal footing. Activist for the Jewish community, Datner was the first woman to be elected as the Chairperson of the Board of the Jewish Community of Warsaw. She works at the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
Elżbieta Janicka, historian of literature and visual artist, is the author of Sztuka czy Naród? [Art or the Nation?] (2006) and Festung Warschau [Forteress Warsaw] (2011). She is co-author of Philosemitic Violence: Poland’s Jewish past in New Polish Narratives (2021) and This Was Not America: A Wrangle Through Jewish-Polish-American History (2022). Her research pertains to the identity and community building function of Polish antisemitism as well as the place and role of the Polish majority in the structure of the Holocaust. She works at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.