Living in the Land of Death

Jews in Poland immediately after the Holocaust

Julia Pirotte, Children in Ruins, Warsaw. Photograph from the collection of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute


Self-determination and violence, trauma and new beginnings, reconstruction and emigration – Jewish life in Poland immediately after the Holocaust was full of ambivalences and contradictory experiences. Places where there had been large Jewish communities before the war, were now marked by destruction, death, and emptiness. The ruined landscape of central Warsaw on the site of the former ghetto became emblematic of this destruction.

Nevertheless, Dzierżoniów and other formerly German towns in Lower Silesia witnessed the reestablishment of a notably self-determined Jewish existence for a few years after the Holocaust. Survivors and remigrants from the Soviet Union settled here, encouraged by the Polish government. At the same time, on 4 July 1946, forty Polish Jews were murdered in Kielce, around 300 km to the east, with another eighty severely injured. For fear of further violence, many Jews fled from Poland.

A photographic collection held at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw includes many sources that reflect this ambivalence. In mid-December 2023, the exhibition “The Determining Gaze” is opening at the Dubnow Institute in Leipzig. It will show a selection of these photographs and explore their origins, voids, and effects alongside the transmission of the photographs, as well as the question of how these images continue to shape our ideas of Jewish life in postwar Poland into the present day. The colloquium will offer an insight into the historical context.

The event will take place either in-person in the seminar room of the Dubnow Institute or digitally. Please note the information in the program. The in-person events will also be streamed.


Thursday, 19 October 2023, Dubnow Institute/Stream
Kamil Kijek
Between a Teleology of Demise and Communist Optimism. Jewish Life in Lower Silesia, 1945–1950

Thursday, 16 November 2023,Dubnow Institute/Stream
Stephan Stach
Ein jüdisches Gedächtnis. Die Rolle des Jüdischen Historischen Instituts beim Wiederaufbau jüdischen Lebens in Polen

Monday, 11 December 2023, Dubnow Institute/Stream
Agnieszka Kajczyk

The Visual Heritage of Polish Jews. The Complex History of the Collection of Postwar Photographs in the Jewish Historical Institute

Afterwards, from around 7 p.m.: Opening of the exhibition »The Determining Gaze. Images of Jewish Life in Postwar Poland«

Thursday, 4 January 2024,Stream
The lecture starts at 6.15 p.m.

Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov
»There Is No Jewish Question, There Are Only Jewish Problems«. Jewish Communists in Postwar Poland

Thursday, 25 January 2024, Stream
Joanna Tokarska-Bakir

What Did We not Know about the Kielce Pogrom until Now? Notes on the Research for the New Monograph Cursed. A Social Portrait of the Kielce Pogrom.

Thursday, 1 February 2024, Stream
David Engel

The Flight of Poland’s Jewish Survivors, 1945–1947


Prof. Dr. David Engel, New York University, NY | Dr. Agnieszka Kajczyk, Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw | Dr. Kamil Kijek, University of Wrocław | Prof. Dr. Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw | Dr. Stephan Stach, Stiftung Friedliche Revolution, Leipzig | Prof. Dr. Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw

Winter semester 2023/2024, on six dates from 5.15 p.m. to 6.45 p.m. each
Dubnow Institute, Leipzig and digital