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"Dos Poylische Yidntum" ("Polish Jewry”, 1946-1966): History and Memory of a Lost World in the Aftermath of the Catastrophe. – POLY

Polish Jewry, 1946-1966

History and Memory of a Lost World After the Catastrophe<br /><br />This project aims to rediscover a collection that is not accessible to researchers or to a wider audience – because it is composed of works in Yiddish –, even though these contain documents of exceptional interest (first Holocaust testimonies, history of Polish Jewry) and that the collection as a whole is traversed by a series of pertinent and ongoing questions regarding the writing of history and the preservation of memory.

Rediscovering and disseminating a historiographical body of work.

The collection entitled « Polish Jewry » was published from 1946 to 1966 in Buenos Aires by Mark Turkow. <br />The general aim of the POLY project lies in rediscovering and disseminating (by means of contextualization and translation) this collection of 175 volumes that echoes on multiple levels the current preoccupations of researchers working on the Second World War and the immediate post-war period and, more broadly, the links between testimony, history and literature.

Given the vastness and the variety of this body of work, a team of readers has been constituted in order the read the collection and analyze it.
A book report template with questions has been created by the coordinator for the readers to guide their book reports and orient it toward the stakes underlying the collection: historical and geographical relation of the author to his or her topic, presence of the Holocaust, testimonial or commemorative function.
The other objective underlying this project is archival research.

- the division between two big periods in the collection, 1946-1950 and 1951-1966, allow us to contribute of the postwar historiography.
- The other trail regards books on children
- The disclosure of the correspondence between Michel Borwicz and Janina Hesheles in the archives and the meeting with Janina Hesheles (Haïfa, march 2013)

- preparing the coming of guest professor Samuel Kassow (Trinity College) and the workshop devoted to him (« History Before Memory »)
- reading and working on the documentation taken from the archives (april – décember 2013)
- setting up a news website about Jewish Studies in France
- preparing an international conference on «Writing the catastrophe : productions, trajectories and network of the Polish Jews in exile (1946-1966)«(april 2014)

- «Collecting and transmitting the accounts of surviving children in Poland and in the yiddish diaspora after the war«, PUF, 2013.
- «Songbooks and popular histories in the PY collection as initiative of memorial conservation«, in Study of popular jewish traditions in Europe (XIX-XX century) : networks, methods, practice, 2013.
- edition of J. Hesheles, In the eyes of a 12 years old girl, transl. A. Juk, Classiques Garnier, 2013.

This project proposes to study a collection of works written in Yiddish published after World War Two in Argentina under the title “Dos poylische yidntum” (“Polish Jewry”) and edited by Marc Turkov (1904-1983), a journalist and influential figure among the Yiddish diaspora, and Abraham Mittelberg. This collection, which has yet to be the subject of an extensive study, is composed of 175 volumes that were published by the “Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina” between 1946 and 1966.

Written by Jewish-Polish writers and intellectuals about their experiences during the war and in the camps and initially regrouping works we now call testimonies, this collection progressively broadened its scope by including works of these same authors on their experiences in Poland prior to the war and by republishing the writings of deceased writers. This plural structure is outlined in the final page of the first issue: "Memories of the old home/ Descriptions of cities and villages / Biographies of famous Yiddish figures / Documents on the hurbn of Polish-Jewry / A hundred year history of Yiddish culture in Poland / Works by famous writers and figures: these will be the major themes of our issues."
If testimonies were predominant in the early years of the collection (20 out of the first 32 volumes published until 1948; see the table of contents in the Appendix), literature was included from the second issue onward, beginning with a monograph on I.L. Peretz, one of the founding fathers of Yiddish Literature. All the while revealing its editorial choices, “Dos poylische yidntum” thus aimed from the start to be a comprehensive collection, offering works from a variety of authors, most of the time already famous, and often more than once, thereby playing a pivotal role in the creation of a network of Jewish-Polish intelligentsia in the early postwar period.

Regrouping a variery of genres (testimonies, memoirs, historical works, literary critcism, novels, poetry), “Dos poylische yidntum” thus rests on the juxtaposition, firstly, of traditional literary forms and, secondly, of varied scholarly studies, whether historical or sociological, on the Yiddish world. It is precisely this cultural transfer that begs a comprehensive study: the collection is characterized by, among other things, a continuous ethnographic endeavor that consists of gathering and studying written and oral testimonies in order to reconstruct Jewish-Polish history, an already widespread practice in pre-war Eastern Europe (as attests, for example, YIVO, which was founded in Vilna in 1925) and rendered more urgent by the war. Two volumes are thus devoted to Emanuel Ringelblum, who acted as the ethnologue and historian of the Warsaw Ghetto, under the title Chapters of History. What, of his works, is made available by means of these “chapters?” More broadly, what editorial processes of selection, presentation, popularization underlies the adaptation of a certain Jewish-Polish culture - dating back to the pre-war era, as well as the war - in the postwar diaspora?

From a commemorative perspective, the collection “Dos poylische yidntum” is anchored in the need to salvage the geographical and cultural homogeneous world of Yiddishland and ensure its cultural transfer toward the at once dispersed and reconstituted world of diaspora: it makes available to this community, by means of the constellation formed by the different volumes, an “archive of the destruction” centered around both the Holocaust and the world that preceded it. As such, it constitutes an at once unique and promising object of study for an interdisciplinary research project.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 323,900 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: October 2011 - 30 Months

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