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Symposium recognizes Polonsky's publication

By Robyn Spector and Tess Raser
On September 20, 2011

  • Polonsky

The University held a symposium on Monday to mark the publication of Prof. Antony Polonsky's (NEJS) magnum opus, which is said to be the most important work of an author; a three-volume compilation of Jewish life in Poland and Russia from 1350 to 2008.

The event, which was sponsored by the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies departments, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry and the National Center for Jewish Film, included a scholarly panel, remarks from University President Frederick Lawrence and a keynote presentation by author and journalist Ruth Franklin.

Joanna B. Michlic introduced Polonsky's book, The Jews in Poland and Russia, noting its examination of social, political and economic topics in Jewish communities. Michlic noted the difficulty of breaking away from the views of previous generations in Jewish history.

Though Polonsky discusses politics in his compilation, Michlic noted that he shifts the focus away from the politically charged discourse of Polish-Jewish relations and history. His focus in the magnum opus is more on the social and cultural history of the complicated narrative.

David Engel, the Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg professor of Holocaust Studies at New York University, discussed a brief history of Russo-Polish history. He also spoke about the historian's role in predicting what is now Jewish history. Engel went on to say that while some historians believe that studying the past would "illuminate" the present, Polonsky's work illuminates the past.

Lawrence, in his remarks preceding Franklin's presentation, explained that Polonsky's work had especially resonated for him because of his own family's Jewish roots.

The keynote speaker, Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic and a former researcher at the Warsaw Bureau of The New York Times, echoed similar sentiments in the opening lines of her speech. She explained that Polonsky's magnum opus was close to her heart because her maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors from Poland who immigrated to America.

Franklin went on to explain what Poland meant to her and her grandparents—a place to which they felt deeply attached. She told the story of their trip to Poland in the 1990s, which they found to be much different than their pre-war vision of the Eastern European country. After graduating from Columbia in 1995, Franklin returned to Krakow. While there, she studied Polish and, to her dismay, found a prevailing negative attitude toward Jews.

After Franklin's lecture, she took questions from the audience. Prof. Sharon Pucker Rivo (NEJS), on behalf of the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, presented a film tribute to conclude the evening.

—Alana Abramson contributed reporting.  

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