Looking at the Ghetto… The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Eighty Years in Retrospect

International Conference

Zbigniew Leszek Grzywaczewski, from the family archive of Maciej Grzywaczewski. Scan of Negative: POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Archeology of Photography Foundation.



Video recordings of the event
Recordings of individual lectures and panels of the conference are available in our Virtual Archive.

The memory of the uprising became controversial almost immediately after its repression by German forces. In 1948, Nathan Rapoport’s memorial was inaugurated on the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto to commemorate the uprising’s fifth anniversary. When the West German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt before that monument during his state visit to Poland in December 1970, his gesture aroused agitated debates in Germany and beyond. The legacy of the uprising became a matter of dispute, among Jews and non-Jews alike: between rival political, social, and national groups and in different languages and cultural contexts.

With the greater attention paid to the Holocaust, the memory of the uprising gained a new dynamic. In Israel, alongside the political dispute regarding the role of the right-wing Jewish Military Union in the uprising, a controversy arose over the meaning of heroism, between struggle for survival and active resistance. In Poland, Marek Edelman’s involvement in the Solidarity movement marked the entanglement of the commemorative history of the uprising with contemporary Polish history. Jan Błoński’s 1987 article, »Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto« triggered an emotional debate regarding the role of the Polish population facing the Holocaust, which continues in different forms until today.

This conference will bring together the historical event and its memory. The contradictions relating to the memorial history of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were born from the complexity of the event itself. Memorial icons will form the epistemological point of departure for the conference. Their emergence, impact, and transformations in various layers of time will be peeled back. Larger questions of universalism and particularism, nationalization and acculturation, experience and memory will be invoked, concerning the destruction of anthropological certitudes, the transformation of Jewish self-understanding, and the character of the ghetto as a point of transit between life and death.

The conference will take place in English and German, with simultaneous translation being offered.

First insight into the program

“It’s Nothing, It’s in the Ghetto.” Reflections on the 80th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Lecture by Jan Tomasz Gross
Monday, 17 April, 6 p.m., Paulinum, Leipzig University

Disobedience, Escape and Hiding: The Unknown Battle of the Masses
Lecture by Havi Dreifuss
Tuesday, 18 April, 5 p.m., Paulinum, Leipzig University

Memorial Concert for the 80th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Members of the Leipziger Universitätsorchester
Tuesday, 18 April, 8 p.m., Grassimuseum für Musikinstrumente der Universität Leipzig

»Between the Uprising and its Commemoration«. Diskussionsrunde mit Rachel Einwohner, Avinoam Patt und Daniel Blatman
Wednesday, 19 April, 5 p.m., Salles de Pologne, Leipzig

»Ahead of the Lord God:« Maria Schrader reading Hanna Krall
followed by a conversation between Anna Artwińska and Barbara Breysach
Wedneyday, 19 April, 8 p.m., Salles de Pologne, Leipzig


Photos: The photos we are using to promote the conference as well as the evening events were taken by Zbigniew Leszek Grzywaczewski. He was a Polish firefighter on duty during the uprising with the task of preventing the flames from spreading to nearby buildings outside the ghetto. His son Maciej Grzywaczewski recently discovered the photo and few other shots. These secretly taken pictures are the only ones known so far that were not taken by the German occupation forces. They will be shown for the first time from 18 April 2023 as part of the exhibition »Around Us a Sea of Fire« at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

17 April, 1 p.m. to 19 April 2023, 9.30 p.m.
Paulinum, Leipzig University/Salles de Pologne, Leipzig // The conference will take place in English and German, with simultaneous translation being offered

International conference of the Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow in cooperation with Beit Lohamei Haghetaot – the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum; the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw; the Haifa Interdisciplinary Unit for Polish Studies, University of Haifa; Moreshet – the Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center; the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw; and the Professorship of Slavic Literature and Cultural Studies, Leipzig University

The conference is funded by the Landecker Foundation.