Annual Report of the Institute for Polish–Jewish Studiesfor the year 2011–2012

Francois Guesnet


The Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies, an associated institute of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, this year published volume 24 of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry. This volume, edited by Israel Bartal, Antony Polonsky, and Scott Ury, was devoted to the subject of ‘Jews and Their Neighbours in Eastern Europe since 1750’. Instead of viewing these as a series of ideological conflicts, the contributors to this volume were asked to explore new or neglected aspects of inter-group interaction in the vast area between the Elbe and the Urals populated by Jews, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, and other groups. Contributions came from more than 20 scholars from Israel, Poland, the UK, and the USA, exploring the political, social, religious, and literary dimensions of relations between Jews and non-Jews in the modern era.

In December, a one-day international conference convened by Professor Antony Polonsky and Dr François Guesnet was held to launch the volume, disseminate its chief findings, and discuss a series of relevant topics in some depth. On the eve of the conference, the Spiro Ark, in co-operation with the Polish Cultural Institute and the New London Synagogue, screened the film Alfred Schreyer from Drohobycz (Poland, 2010), combined with a short performance by Alfred Schreyer, a musician from Drohobycz and Holocaust survivor, with his band.

The conference, which was held the next day at the Hallam Conference Centre and the Polish Embassy, was formally opened by the ambassador of the Republic of Poland, H.E. Barbara Tuge-Erecińska. The conference was organized in co-operation with the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London, and was generously sponsored by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Polish Embassy, the American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies and the Instytut Książki (Kraków). The programme investigated the boundaries between the various communities in the multi-ethnic fabric of eastern Europe, offered in-depth discussions revolving around Jewish/non-Jewish relations, and included a round-table discussion of Antony Polonsky’s major new three-volume work, The Jews in Poland and Russia (published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization in 2010–11). Speakers came from Canada, Israel, Poland, and the United States. The conference was attended by more than 120 people, and it concluded with a remarkable concert by Alfred Schreyer and his band in the premises of the Polish Embassy.

In March 2012, the Institute organized a course of four lectures on ‘Polish–Jewish Relations in the Twentieth Century’, held at the London Jewish Cultural Centre in north-west London. Professor Antony Polonsky gave two lectures, the first on ‘Polish Society and the Holocaust’ and the second on ‘Polish–Jewish Relations since the Second World War’. These were followed by a lecture by Ben Helfgott, speaking on ‘Polish–Jewish Relations: A Personal Perspective’, and a lecture by Kate Gerrard, on the subject ‘Polish–Jewish Relations: Into the Twenty-First Century’. The course was attended by about 20 people, and each session was followed by a lively discussion.

In April 2012, Professor Yohanan Petrovsky-Stern from Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) presented a lecture on ‘Crime and Punishment in the Shtetl (1790–1850)’, discussing the peculiarities of legal offences committed by Jews in tsarist Russia in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The event was held in co-operation with the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London, and drew a considerable audience.