Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies

Annual Report for the year 2008–2009


Jonathan Webber


The Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies, an associated institute of the Centre, this year published volume 21 of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry. This volume, edited by Leszek Głuchowski and Antony Polonsky, focused on the fortieth anniversary of an important but relatively little-studied subject––the March 1968 ‘anti-Zionist’ campaign in Poland and its significance for Polish–Jewish relations. In the mid-1960s, an unpopular Polish government, seeking to gain public support and divert attention away from the real problems facing the country, adopted overtly antisemitic policies, as a result of which nearly 15,000 Jews left the country and Jewish life in the country came to a standstill for many years. This volume of Polin contains important new research on the subject. It contains twenty-four papers, focusing on the events that triggered the crisis, the crisis itself, and its consequences. The 550-page volume also includes several papers on other subjects in Polish–Jewish studies as well as obituaries of three major scholars in the field.

In November a one-day international conference convened by Antony Polonsky and Lena Stanley-Clamp was held to launch the volume and to open up discussion on this difficult, controversial, and complex subject. The conference, which was co-sponsored by the Polish Cultural Institute and held at the Polish Embassy in London, was formally opened by the Polish ambassador, H. E. Barbara Tuge-Erecińska. The speakers at the conference, who came from Poland, Sweden, the UK, and the USA, described and analysed the slanders, the purges, and the hate campaign of 1968 stimulated by the government and its secret police; the role of Jewish intellectuals and activists in opposing the communist regime; and the trauma for Jews of their emigration in 1968 as well as the challenge, for those left behind, of reinventing Jewish life in Poland. The conference benefited from the star appearance of Adam Michnik, currently editor-in-chief of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, who from 1968 was one of the leading organizers of the underground democratic opposition to the communist regime in Poland, for which he was imprisoned on several occasions. The conference was a particularly lively event and provoked spirited discussion; Michnik’s speech attracted the interest of the press and TV. The conference concluded with the screening of the Polish film ‘Rachela at the Gdański Train Station’, a documentary made in 2006 focusing on the experience of five Polish Jews during the events of March 1968 and following their emigration to Sweden. Given the importance and contemporary relevance of the subject, the conference was full to capacity, and attracted the participation of a number of Polish Jews who had themselves emigrated in 1968.

During the year, the Institute facilitated sponsorship of the translation into Polish of a book on the mystical origins of hasidism by Professor Rachel Elior (of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem). It was also involved in advising the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw in its preparations for ‘Polska Year’ in the UK––a nationwide season of Polish cultural events including lectures, conferences, concerts, and other such activities to run from May 2009 to March 2010––and in particular on possible Jewish elements of the programming