Conscious History

BookConscious History

Conscious History

Polish Jewish Historians before the Holocaust

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


July 8th, 2021

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Thoroughly researched, this study highlights the historical scholarship that is one of the lasting legacies of interwar Polish Jewry and analyses its political and social context. As Jewish citizens struggled to assert their place in a newly independent Poland, a dedicated group of Jewish scholars fascinated by history devoted themselves to creating a sense of Polish Jewish belonging while also fighting for their rights as an ethnic minority. The political climate made it hard for these men and women to pursue an academic career; instead they had to continue their efforts to create and disseminate Polish Jewish history by teaching outside the university and publishing in scholarly and popular journals. By introducing the Jewish public to a pantheon of historical heroes to celebrate and anniversaries to commemorate, they sought to forge a community aware of its past, its cultural heritage, and its achievements---though no less important were their efforts to counter the increased hostility towards Jews in the public discourse of the day. In highlighting the role of public intellectuals and the social role of scholars and historical scholarship, this study adds a new dimension to the understanding of the Polish Jewish world in the interwar period.


'This is an important subject not only for those concerned with the modern history and culture of Polish Jews but also for anyone interested in the relations between academy and community or in the social role of scholars and scholarship'.
David Engel, New York University

'Historical scholarship was a main feature of Polish-Jewish culture between the wars and is one of the main legacies of Polish Jewry. This book, analysing the political and social context and the metahistory of that work, promises to be a landmark piece of scholarship.'
Moshe Rosman, Bar-Ilan University

‘Natalia Aleksiun’s important new book […] gives voice to these largely unknown historians who may have doubted the efficacy of their enterprise but never their right to undertake it […] Thanks to Aleksiun’s carefully researched and evocative book, we now know their names and their scholarship.’
Nancy Sinkoff, Sources

'Aleksiun weaves a powerful narrative about public intellectuals, historical scholarship, and Polish-Jewish relations... Conscious History is an innovative and exemplary contribution to scholarship about Polish Jews and interwar Poland that deepens our understanding of many of the questions that continue to animate historians today.'
Joanna Sliwa, H-Poland

Author Information

Natalia Aleksiun is Professor of Modern Jewish History at Touro College, Graduate School of Jewish Studies, New York. She is the co-editor, with Antony Polonsky and Brian Horowitz, of 'Writing Jewish History in Eastern Europe' (2016), and has published widely on Polish Jewish issues. Among several prestigious fellowships, she has been a fellow at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich and at the Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies in Vienna, and the Pearl Resnick Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Abbreviations10
Note on Transliteration and Names11
1. Historical Beginnings25
2. The Making of Professional Polish Jewish Historians75
3. Becoming Polish Mainstream121
4. Beyond the Ivory Tower174
5. Themes and Trends of Historical Enquiry227