Call for papers “Writing the Destruction”

Writing the Destruction in the Polish-Jewish World from the End of World War 2 to the Late 1960s: Productions, Trajectories, Networks.


This conference is primarily linked to a transdisciplinary program funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) about Dos Poylishe Yidntum, the Yiddish book series published by Mark Turkow in Buenos Aires between 1946 and 1966. Our project aims to gather research papers about a large variety of writings by Holocaust survivors from the Polish Jewish world, as early as the end of the war in Europe.

By using the term “Destruction Writings”, instead of Holocaust writings, we mean to be specific about the time period (the Second World War and its aftermath) and the places they were produced (in occupied and then liberated Eastern Europe, in the post-war Jewish Diasporas, in Israel). We thus refer to: 1. Khurbn writings, produced when events were happening – in camps, ghettos or in the underground -, and published after the war; 2. Writings about the “world of yesterday”, the world before the Catastrophe, which aimed to keep alive and vivid memory and knowledge about lost places and forms of social life. Those latter writings took on a specific meaning through their publication and diffusion in the post-war years, in resonance with the recent Catastrophe.

The authors of such writings received training in the Polish-Jewish world, which stretches from North to South, from the Baltic Sea to Galicia, and from East to West, from the banks of the Dnieper River to the area of the former province of Pozen. Initially shaped by the religious and community patterns of the shtetl, the culture of the Polish-Jewish world had become increasingly secular since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, while Yiddish, a vernacular language, was morphing into a social, political and intellectual instrument to communicate with the masses, assert the Jewish identity, and nurture literary creation.

The central places of Polish Judaism, such as Warsaw, Cracow, Vilnius, or Lvov, had become intellectual hubs and cradles for the emergence of institutions, groups, and figures embodying a brand of Jewish Polish culture that was mainly Yiddish-speaking but intrinsically multilingual.

The conference aims to investigate on how authors from the Polish-Jewish world who survived the Catastrophe re-appropriated prewar literary and historiographical traditions and trends to represent and tell what was specific to their time, as they wrote the Destruction – in Yiddish but in other languages as well— through, such as poems, novels, narratives, memoirs, Yizker Bikher, history books, reports, and plays. Participants are invited to consider such diversity, not only to argue that the literary production of the Polish-Jewish world is characteristically non genre-specific, but rather to look at these acts of writing, collecting, and publishing as many events making up the history of khurbn.

In order to enlarge our knowledge and understanding of the numerous and multiform “Destruction writings”, several issues can be raised:

1. How the Polish Jewish identity strove to exist outside its original setting, especially by keeping alive codes of writing that bind together authors and readers as they imagine their community into existence? And, because those writings challenge the way we conceive of genre boundaries, how such texts can help scholars to take a fresh look at the pervasive notion of “testimony” in its diverse uses?

2. “Destruction writings” were not produced by/did not come out from isolated individuals: they were encouraged and sometimes supervised by documentary projects (underground archives projects during the war, then historical commissions), they were issued by publishing houses and journals, they were supported by mutual-aid societies, landsmanshaftn, Jewish philanthropic associations; they involved professional writers, editors, journalists and artists. How should one consider those writings, people and institutions in the highly politicized contexts of the post-war years (though differently depending on location, Iron Curtain Europe contrasting sharply with the centers of the Jewish Diaspora) ?

3. How could one understand the unknown and obscurity in which those writings have remained for such a long time and their recent rediscovery by Holocaust historians and literary scholars ? How do the first texts on the Catastrophe lead us to rethink the history of the Shoah’s writings?

In the wake of recent historiographical and literary publications—i.e. Samuel D. Kassow’s work on Oyneg Shabes, and Rachel Ertel’s rediscovery of Leib Rochman’s work—both in France and abroad, through an approach that draws on history and literary studies, the conference’s goal is to contribute to reassessing the abundant body of mostly Yiddish writings that left their imprint on the post-war years. The specificity of these corpuses — born out of exceptional cultural circumstances that resulted from the encounter of Polish Jewish writing traditions and the extreme conditions created by the Catastrophe—leads us to reconsider our usual matrices of interpretation and proves to be central in writing the history of the post-war years.

The following themes are not meant to map a territory for research; they are only suggestions to help participants frame contributions focusing on the writings on yesterday’s world and its destruction.

1. Yesterday’s world

a. Places of memory. Geographies of a bygone world.

b. Knowledge of the past. Folklores, historiographies.

c. Commemorating the “time before”: famous places, exemplary lives

2. The Catastrophe

a. Documenting, collecting.

b. Telling, inscribing.

c. Publishing, diffusing.


Abstracts of 500-1000 words in French or English are requested by December, 15th, 2013. Please submit abstracts, along with a brief academic CV to Judith Lindenberg or Fleur Kuhn at Any further queries may be sent to the same address.

Organizing institution: EHESS (CRH)

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme (MAHJ, Paris), 11-13 June 2014

Scientific committee: Tal Bruttmann, Anny Dayan Rosenman, Rachel Ertel, Samuel D. Kassow, Judith Lyon-Caen, Yitskhok Niborski, Annette Wieviorka

Conference committee: Judith Lindenberg, Fleur Kuhn, Constance Paris de Bollardière, Éléonore Biezunski, Simon Perego

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