Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies

Annual Report for the year 2007-–2008


Jonathan Webber


The Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies, an associated institute of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, this year published volume 20 of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, edited by Gabriel N. Finder, Natalia Aleksiun, Antony Polonsky, and Jan Schwarz, a volume focusing on ‘Making Holocaust Memory’. The reconciliation of Jewish and Polish memories of the Holocaust is the central issue in contemporary Polish–Jewish relations, yet this is the first volume to examine Poles’ and Jews’ shared yet divisive memory of the Holocaust in a comprehensive way, and to present important new research on the subject. It contains fourteen papers, covering a wide range of topics: several papers are concerned with the period immediately after the war, including the activities of the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland, children’s search for identity, and the Jewish collaborators who were put on trial; and in addition there are papers on Holocaust memorialization in Ukraine, Israeli Holocaust memory, and the development of Holocaust education in Poland since 1989. The 500-page volume––which is dedicated to the memory of Chris Schwarz, founder and director of the Galicia Jewish Museum in Cracow, who sadly passed away in 2007––also includes nine other papers on other subjects in Polish–Jewish studies, including two on the synagogues of Poznań (Posen).

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 about the whole question of Holocaust memory in Poland. The conference, which was co-sponsored by the Polish Cultural Institute and held at the Polish Embassy in London, opened with a presentation given by the Polish ambassador, H.E. Barbara Tuge-Erecińska. Papers were then given by scholars from the United States, the U.K., and Poland, including Ya’akov Finkelstein, the Cultural Attaché at the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw (who spoke about the work of the Embassy in Poland to foster Holocaust memory and the memory of pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Poland), Robert Kuwalek, the first director of the new memorial and museum on the site of the Bełżec death camp, which opened in 2004, and a paper by Jonathan Webber in tribute to the work of the photographer Chris Schwarz in Poland (which had originally started out in the 1990s as a research project of the Centre, led by Prof. Webber). The conference concluded with the screening of the acclaimed BBC film ‘Holocaust––A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz’ and introduced by Peter Maniura, the film’s executive producer and the head of Classical Music Television and Performance at the BBC. The conference was full to capacity, and there was lively discussion throughout, particularly following the film.