Jews and Poland: A Complicated History with Jakub Nowakowski

Jews and Poland: A Complicated History with Jakub Nowakowski


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Usually, the history of the Polish Jews is defined by the stories and emotions related to the Holocaust. In reality, the history of the Polish Jews is almost one thousand years long, and despite common convictions – it does not end with Auschwitz. In reality, it is all far more complicated. This conversation will explore the history of Jewish Poland from 1918 through till today in order to better understand this complex history.

From the Jewish perspective, Poland is unique. Nowhere else in such a literal and visible manner do traces of Jewish life stand side by side with those of the Holocaust and destruction. Nowhere else in Europe is the presence of the void created by the Holocaust is as tangible as in the lands of modern Poland and Ukraine. Nowhere else is the evidence of destruction as lasting and ubiquitous — because nowhere else was Jewish life as developed as it was in the historic lands of Poland – for centuries – home to the largest Jewish population in the world.

We’ll discuss how the political and social realities shaped by the Second World War caused those physical elements that survived to be forgotten for years. We’ll learn how during the Communist period, instead of remembrance, the lack of memory appeared—shared amnesia—which sanctioned further mass devastation of those fragments of the broken world that somehow remained. But Jewish life, which for decades smoldered under the surface during communist rule, has begun to recover in the last few years and is proudly manifesting its presence in Poland since the democratic changes of 1989. We'll discuss how, for the first time in over 70 years, Poland is filled with a polyphony of Jewish voices, an emphatic testimony to the variety of opportunities and trends—from Orthodox to Progressive, to completely secular.

During this seminar, we will take a journey through the last hundred years of the history of the Polish Jews. We will start in 1918 when Poland regained its independence and will look at the interwar period – a time of high hopes and grave disappointments. We will discuss the Holocaust – the time of unimaginable suffering and pain. But we shall not stop there – looking at post-war communist Poland and its politics toward the Jews – times of sorrow and oblivion. And finally, we will discuss the reality of the present day, post-communist Poland. Time of new hopes and old fears.

Led by an expert on the history of the Polish Jews in the twentieth century, Jakub Nowakowski, this interactive seminar will look at the complicated history of the Polish Jews and the Polish-Jewish relations since 1918 until today. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the dramatic history of the Polish Jews in the twentieth century and its impact at the present-day realities.

Jakub Nowakowski was born and raised in Kazimierz, the former Jewish district of Kraków. Coming from a non-Jewish family that lived in Kazimierz for generations, from early age he was compelled to research the history of his neighborhood. In 2007 he graduated from the Department of Jewish Studies at the Jagiellonian University, where he wrote a thesis on Jewish resistance in Kraków during the Second World War. In 2010, after an international competition, Nowakowski was appointed the Galicia Jewish Museum’s director. He is the co-author of Museum publications, as well as co-curator of the Museum exhibitions, including "The Girl in the Diary. Searching for Rywka from the Lodz Ghetto" that is currently travelling through the USA.

This conversation is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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