Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies

Annual Report for the year 2003–2004


Jonathan Webber


The Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, an associated institute of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, this year published volume 16 of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, edited by Michael C. Steinlauf and Antony Polonsky. Focusing on Jewish popular culture in Poland, it contains eighteen papers, examining historical topics such as klezmer musicians, badkhones (traditional Yiddish wedding songs), Jewish theatre, folksongs, the Yiddish press, and illustrated postcards, as well as present-day revivals, such as Jewish wooden figurines and the annual festival of Jewish culture in Cracow. The volume, which at 600 pages is the largest yet produced in the Polin series, also includes seven other papers, three review essays, a full complement of book reviews, two obituaries, and the editor’s introduction. The volume is dedicated to Rafael Sharf, a founding member of the Institute's Council, whose Goldman Lecture, delivered at the Centre, was published last year. In November a one-day international conference, convened by Professor Jonathan Webber, was held to launch the volume. The conference, which was co-sponsored by the Polish Cultural Institute and held at the Polish Embassy in London, was opened by a presentation given by the Polish Ambassador on the importance for Polish culture of Jewish popular culture in Poland. Papers were then given by scholars from England, Israel, and the USA, as well as two personalities from Poland both deeply engaged in promoting Jewish cultural activities there; two short films were screened, and a Gerer hasid from north-west London, himself a badkhn, spoke on the art of badkhones as still practised in his community and gave a short performance, with his daughter accompanying him on the piano. Professor Polonsky delivered a tribute in memory of Rafael Scharf, who had passed away two months before.

The Institute also held a one-day seminar in July, held at the Central Synagogue in London, on the subject ‘Contemporary Polish Attitudes to the Holocaust’. The seminar was convened by Professor Halina Taborska, Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski, and Dr Michael Fleming; six young Polish scholars came over to England specially for the purpose. The subjects they covered were the Holocaust in Catholic theological perspective, the position of the Holocaust in Polish history, the treatment of the Holocaust in the Polish mass media, the teaching of the Holocaust in Polish schools, the presentation of the Holocaust in contemporary Polish literature, and the representation of the Holocaust on present-day Holocaust memorials in Poland. These important but relatively little-known subjects generated a lively and productive discussion.