Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies

Annual Report for the year 2005–2006


Jonathan Webber


The Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, an associated institute of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, this year published volume 18 of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, edited by Chaeran Freeze, Paula Hyman and Antony Polonsky, a volume focusing on 'Jewish Women in Eastern Europe'. The exclusion of Jewish women from the public domains of religious and civil life has been reflected in their near total absence in traditional histories of the east European Jewish past, but it is now beginning to be studied more seriously, and volume 18 of Polin presents important new research on the subject. It contains twelve papers, which not only describe a wide range of women's experiences inside the Jewish world, but also, by specifically looking at east European Jewish history from the perspective of gender, enable many new questions to emerge as old stereotypes come under closer examination. The 450-page volume also includes four other papers, a full complement of book reviews and review essays, and two obituaries.

In November a one-day international conference, convened by Professor Jonathan Webber, was held to launch the volume, disseminate its chief findings, and to open up the discussion of both myth and reality as regards women in pre-Holocaust Polish-Jewish society, their experiences during the Holocaust itself, and their representation in Polish cinema since 1989. 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 director of the Polish Cultural Institute (in the absence of the ambassador). Papers were then given by scholars from England, Israel, and Poland (including one paper on Isaac Bashevis Singer, by Dr Joseph Sherman, a Fellow of the Centre); and the conference concluded with the screening of a powerful film, Angry Harvest (directed by Agnieszka Holland). This is a character study of a Jewish woman who escapes from a train bound for a Nazi death camp and is hidden by a Polish Catholic farmer, first as a favour, then against her will, then as a man who has fallen in love for the first time. The conference was full to capacity, and there was lively discussion throughout, particularly following the film.

During the year the Institute also organized a special lecture, by Professor Shimon Redlich (Ben-Gurion University) on 'The Polish-Jewish-Ukrainian Triangle in Prewar and Wartime Galicia', held in January at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London.