Citations for Past Winners of the Kulczycki Book Prize



Paul Brykczynski for Primed for Violence: Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland (University of Wisconsin Press)

Primed for Violence takes a historical incident, the assassination of the first president of Poland, that had been formerly relegated to a brief aside in the historiography of the Second Republic and, through a careful and confident reading of its cultural context, shows how it is in fact central to understanding the pressures and ultimate failures of the new state. Paul Brykczynski demonstrates how the 1922 murder of President Narutowicz and the riots that followed became a bloody assertion for the radical right that only “ethnic Poles” should run the multiethnic state – a claim that the Polish left, despite its condemnation of the assassination itself, never really rebuffed. This explosion of violence and the rhetoric surrounding it thus anticipated the failure of democracy in the 1926 coup d’état, as well as the state’s descent into antisemitism in the 1930s. The book is beautifully written, tightly argued, and is a model of pacing and precision. It speaks not only to students of Polish history and politics, but also to anyone interested in antisemitism, nationalist violence, and radical right-wing politics.

Honorable Mention

John Kulczycki for Belonging to the Nation: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Polish- German Borderlands, 1939–1951 (Harvard University Press)

Belonging to the Nation is a study of the preeminence of nationality as a category of identity, while illustrating the historical pitfalls and limitations of just such a method of categorization. The book shows how the state, whether Nazi Germany or Communist Poland, used similar techniques and modes of thought as authorities sought to sort out the national belonging of the complex, often nationally indifferent populations who lived in the overlapping spaces of their shifting borders. It illustrates how in the 1940s, there were still plenty of people for whom ethnonationalist categories offered a poor fit, and conveys, often through personal testimony, the tragic consequences of trying to make people fit these categories. Meticulously researched and dispassionately presented, the book makes a major contribution to the study of nationalism and the political and social history of one of Europe’s multilingual and multiconfessional borderlands.


Iryna Vushko for The Politics of Cultural Retreat: Imperial Bureaucracy in Austrian Galicia, 1772-1867 (Yale University Press)

The creation of the Austrian province of Galicia and Lodomeria on territory shorn from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772 offered its new masters an opportunity to put Enlightenment principles of rationality and universality into practice. Into the presumably backward lands occupied by Poles, Ruthenians, and Jews, the Habsburgs sent bureaucrats from Silesia, Bohemia, Styria, the Austrian Netherlands, and Habsburg Italy. Their efforts to create rational uniformity mostly failed, but the “politics of cultural retreat,” as Iryna Vushko ably describes the process, is no less worthy of our attention for that. In an insightful study of political paradoxes and unintended consequences, Vushko shows how Austrian bureaucrats frequently came to implement versions of policies from the former Commonwealth, reified or even exacerbated divisions in society by fomenting the emergence of modern nationalism, and through emulation of and intermarriage with the Francophone Polish-Lithuanian aristocracy and nobility, increasingly came to identify with Polish nationalism. Because Vushko’s study extends nearly a century, she is able to show how complex and unpredictable the transition to the age of nationalism truly was, often through the telling biographical detail of one of the children of these bureaucrats such as Wincenty Pol, who became a major Polish writer, Józef Dietl, who served as the patriotic first Polish mayor of Cracow, or the writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who eventually settled on Ruthenian self-identification. During this period, Poles joined the Austrian bureaucracy, Ruthenians found a political voice, and policies to control Jewish mobility and population growth largely failed, while efforts to educate them in German proved quite successful. Vushko also demonstrates how short-term failure did not preclude the modernization of this region or the development of imperial loyalties among all three groups. Thanks to Vushko’s decision to place Austrian bureaucrats and their families at the center of the narrative, The Politics of Cultural Retreat sheds new light on crucial aspects that often teleological national histories have missed. The scope and implications of this superbly researched, elegantly written, balanced, and persuasive book make it a valuable tool for scholars in disciplines spanning from history and political science to literary and cultural studies.

Honorable Mention

Lech Mróz for Roma-Gypsy Presence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 15th – 18th Centuries (Central European University Press)

The Roma (‘Gypsies’) are Central Europe’s largest stateless minority of ten to twelve million people. During the modern period, Roma have been marginalized, denied their ethnic identity and language, and, alongside Jews, targeted by Nazi Germany’s genocidal policy of a ‘Final Solution.’ As a result, Roma were written out from the region’s past and present; in fact, the group’s current sociopolitical situation is eerily reminiscent of the United States’ Afro-Americans prior to the Civil Rights Movement. It suffices to recall how few protested when in 2010, France expelled thousands of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania regardless of the fact that they were citizens of the European Union. Lech Mróz’s groundbreaking monograph gives his readers an opportunity to rethink the history of Roma in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, that is, today’s Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. In this book, the culmination of his over-half-a-century-long research on the subject, Mróz returns Roma to their rightful place in the mainstream of Polish and Central European history, showing that until the end of the Commonwealth their position was no stranger or different than any other ethnic group inhabiting these territories. This historical revision single-handedly repudiates the lingering stereotype of Roma as the ‘eternal Other.’ Working with rare and hard-to-locate documents in Latin, Ruthenian and German, Mróz demonstrates that like Jews or Armenians, Roma enjoyed their own ethno-social non-territorial autonomy in the Commonwealth. An invaluable contribution of Mróz’s research is his uncovering of over a hundred and sixty original documents analyzed in the book. These priceless archival sources challenge the often preconceived notion that Roma represent an ‘ahistorical population;’ rather, Mróz shows that Roma history indeed can—and should—be probed with the use of historiographical instruments. Roma-Gypsy Presence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 15th – 18th Centuries is an achievement that constitutes a turning point in our understanding of Roma minority. After reading Mróz’s book, one can hardly imagine the histories of the European continent and its political entities without a chapter on Roma.


Michael Fleming for Auschwitz, the Allies and Censorship of the Holocaust (Cambridge University Press)

Michael Fleming’s first-rate book once again asks the question about the extent, timing and relevance of the Allies’ knowledge about the Holocaust, making the mass murder of Jews at Auschwitz its case study. By posing this question after Laqueur’s and Gilbert’s books of the 1980s and the subsequent three decades of prolific publications on the subject, Fleming’s work faces a serious challenge of offering its readers more than mere cosmetic materials. Fleming meets this challenge with new, extensive, and meticulous archival research, primarily in the UK, but also in Poland, Israel, and the US, bringing to the fore important new evidence and an impressive line of interpretation connected to its historical and personal contexts. He traces both official and unofficial interconnections between well-known reports on the operation of Auschwitz, their producers and audience, paying particular attention to the channels of, and restrictions to, the dissemination of this information. In other words, he contextualizes his findings by taking into account the system of information dissemination during the Second World War in the West, including the lines of dependency and policies of censorship of particular agents, such as governments, individuals, the press and the airwaves. The book successfully challenges some long-accepted notions about the timing of the Allies’ knowledge of the Holocaust, as well as the means and goals of censoring it, while also pointing to how these challenged assumptions may change scholarly and political discourse today. Fleming’s definitive account of the Allies’ policies vis-à-vis the Holocaust is also of value for engaging in a productive conversation with existing Polish and western scholarship on this topic. Holocaust Studies will find this book indispensable in future discussions of the relationship between public knowledge and the course of history.

Per Andres Rudling for The Rise and Fall of Belarusian Nationalism, 1906-1931 (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Per Anders Rudling’s study, based on multilingual archival research, probes a neglected corner of early 20th-century East Central European history, exploring a national movement that did not come to fruition at the time, but which provides vital context for the political and cultural shape of Belarus today. At the turn of the 20th century, and especially after the Revolution of 1905, this geographical center of former Poland-Lithuania, which also constituted the core of Jewish settlement in Europe, was at the receiving end of various national movements. Its predominantly rural population preferred confessional and estate identities; few saw themselves in national terms. During the Great War, the region underwent a radical overhaul. Organized as a quasi-polity, Land Ober Ost, Germany pursued its modernization by replacing Russian with German and Polish, and introducing—for the first time ever—Belarusian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Yiddish as languages of education, newspapers, and local administration. The Peace of Riga split the land between interwar Poland and Bolshevik Russia. Despite as many as five declarations of Belarusian independence by 1920, Belarusian nationalism and language never became a rallying point for the population. Warsaw sought to assimilate ‘tentative Belarusians’ through Polonization efforts and by destroying or seizing Orthodox churches. In the Soviet Union, the tactical usefulness of Belarusian nationalism was recognized and a Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic fashioned; there, the official multilingualism of the Land Ober Ost continued until mid-1930s, when the Great Terror shifted gears to Russification. Rudling’s masterful text demonstrates how Belarusian nationalism, caught between the nationalizing Polish state and the totalizing aims of the Soviet Union, never really spread much further than its elite adherents, many of whom had been dependent on German support. All the same, the movement laid the framework for a Belarusian state. The book should become the first port of call for commentators on present-day Belarus.

Honorable Mention

Glenn Kurtz for Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux)

This highly original book begins with something seemingly prosaic—a damaged, old spool of film—and, thanks to the author’s obsessiveness, elegant prose, and patient humanity, spins that spool into a portrait of a place on the brink of destruction. Shot by his grandfather during a European tour in 1938, the film contained some three minutes of both color and black-and-white footage of the Polish town from which he and his family emigrated before the First World War. As Kurtz follows leads, consulting experts, secondary sources, and even survivors depicted in that footage, he finds Morry Chandler, born Moszek Tuchendler in Nasielsk, Poland, whose memory is revitalized by the images he sees in the film, including several shots of himself as a schoolboy. Morry’s story of village life before the war and of survival during it leads Kurtz to other people in the US, Great Britain, Poland, and Israel, enabling him to uncover strands of the town’s “web of interrelations.” While he knows that the town’s legacy will never be more than fragmentary, he sees that his “grandfather’s film became the medium that brought the pieces together, unexpectedly, creating a new kind of community” (277). Thanks to the author, the film is now available, after painstaking restoration by staff of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, on their website and in an Auschwitz exhibit of Jewish life before the war. That outcome is valuable enough. The book, meanwhile, warrants an honorable mention because of its splendid research, compelling presentation, and powerful depiction of life in interwar and wartime Poland.


David Frick for Kith, Kin, and Neighbors: Communities and Confessions in Seventeenth-Century Wilno (Cornell University Press)

In this imaginative and richly textured study, as multilingual as its subject, David Frick brings to vivid life an early modern European city, and explains the complex spatial and institutional arrangements of coexistence of its polyglot and multiconfessional populace, also divided among various estates.  In the 17th century, Wilno was both the “second capital” of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and home to a multitude of peoples and adherents of no fewer than five different variants of Christianity, as well as Jews (including Karaims) and Muslims.  Carefully piecing together evidence from a wealth of original and published sources, and employing a mastery of language and structure, Frick recreates the bygone city in his pages, practically house by house, and guides the reader through a colorful tour of its streets; along the way, he points out who lived where, and near to whom, and demonstrates the extensive and intimate intermingling of the Wilnians who spoke different languages, or similar ones written in differing scripts, and espoused different though kindred Abrahamic faiths: the “kith, kin, and neighbors” of his title.  The author goes on to describe, subtly and convincingly, the changing conventions and customs that regulated and sought to moderate conflicts among the various communities of the city, and more often than not enabled its residents to live together in reasonable harmony.  Brilliantly conceived, meticulously researched, and gracefully written, Kith, Kin, and Neighbors is scholarship at its finest, and takes its place as a tour de force of urban history. 


Beth Holmgren for Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America (Indiana University Press)

Beth Holmgren’s Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America is a masterly narrative that combines broad and meticulous research and attention to detail with lively, approachable, and exciting prose. The book is as rich in its multiple subjects of interest as the life and story of its heroine, Helena Modrzejewska, who performed in the United States under the shortened stage name Modjeska. Exploring its subject’s conscious refashioning of herself on American soil, the study delves into nineteenth century theater history both in Poland and America, contrasting the cultural consequences of Poland’s political partitions with America’s regional specificities and social tensions. Holmgren maps Modjeska’s life and career with a nuanced understanding of the crossroads of social standings, languages, cultures, and life projects and what these entailed for a woman of the period. She makes her reader fully appreciate Modjeska’s talent, discipline, imagination, intelligence, and daring. Modjeska’s illegitimate origins, uncommon – at the time – common-law marriage, and then unlikely marriage to a count, the grueling conditions of her early career and her rising to prominence as a leading Polish actress in Kraków and Warsaw have been the focus of academic attention in Polish scholarship. Beth Holmgren’s book writes Modjeska into North American theater studies and presents her as an emigre woman, an adventurer, a wife, a friend, a hostess, a professional woman who became a provider, and a Polish patriot. Holmgren understands theater studies as cultural studies and her story takes us behind the stages on which Modjeska performed her most famed roles, on tour of the buildings and the streets on which they stood, into social salons, gatherings and networks, onto the railroads and into hotel rooms, to wardrobes, gardens, and living rooms of her heroes. Even if Modjeska had not existed as an historical figure, Holmgren’s book would have read like a great novel, complete with a wealth of period detail that makes her personality and her era come alive for the reader.


Brian Porter-Szűcs for Faith and Fatherland: Catholicism, Modernity, and Poland (Oxford University Press)

The Kulczycki Prize for the best book in any discipline, on any aspect of Polish affairs goes to Brian Porter-Szűcs for Faith and Fatherland: Catholicism, Modernity, and Poland. Published by Oxford University Press, this fresh and compelling exploration of modern Catholicism in the Polish context effectively historicizes Catholic doctrine, moving past the widely held assumption that the Church took a relatively unchanging approach to social problems. Porter-Szűcs’ work lies at the intersection of religion and ethnonational identity, demonstrating the Church’s pattern of constantly recontextualizing its doctrine to make itself an arbiter of Polish identity. Faith and Fatherland recalibrates how we think about the fundamental relationship between the Catholic Church and the Polish nation, giving eccleciastical leaders more agency in the modernization of religious institutions to ensure that they maintain their social relevance. Porter-Szűcs’ study also brings fresh insight—and some hard hitting analysis—to our understanding of anti-Jewish sentiment among the Polish clergy. Similarly, he draws intriguing connections between Poland’s distinctive Marian cult and the gender dynamic in modern Polish society. Overall, the meticulously researched, highly engaging narrative speaks to what Poland has been and what it is becoming. The book is sure to become a classic within Polish studies.


Antony Polonsky for The Jews in Poland and Russia, vol. I, 1350-1881 and vol. II, 1881-1914 (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization)

The first two volumes of Antony Polonsky’s The Jews in Poland and Russia comprise a truly landmark study of East European Jewish history from the mid-fourteenth century to the outbreak of World War I. This work is an invaluable synthetic exposition of Jewish civilization in Poland and Russia that also pays close attention to the larger historical context in which Jewish history unfolded in these areas. While exhaustive in presenting historical detail and utilizing available sources and data of all types, Polonsky is also masterful in conveying the texture of Jewish life in different regions during each period. His study weaves together numerous aspects of that life — among others, the relationship of Jewish communities to the states in the region and their governance mechanisms; Jewish religious and political movements; the evolving role of the synagogue in communities; the wide variety of Jewish organizations over time and space; cultural changes, including the development of the mass press, modern literature, and theater; the experiences of Jewish women; and descriptions of the towns and cities in which Jewish history played out.

The contribution of Polonsky’s study, however, is not only an impressive synthesis of a vast topic and vast amount of information. In integrating all of this material, the author also deftly crafts his own interpretations of trends in the area and the timing of shifts in them. His marshaling of evidence and his own insights add up to a compelling set of arguments about the course of Jewish history. Polonsky addresses Jewish, Polish, and Russian historical developments all with great nuance, and that depth of understanding allows him to present the complexities of these intertwined histories with a subtlety rarely achieved in projects of such ambitious temporal and spatial scope. This study will become the “go to” reference for scholars of East European Jewish history for a long time to come.

Honorable Mention

Bożena ShallcrossThe Holocaust Object in Polish and Polish-Jewish Culture (Indiana University Press)


Clare Cavanagh for Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (Yale University Press), and Neal Pease, Rome’s Most Faithful Daughter: The Catholic Church and Independent Poland 1914-1939 (Ohio University Press & Swallow Press)

Clare Cavanagh’s Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics is an outstanding scholarly work with a broad critical agenda. An overview of modern East European poetry, specifically Russian and Polish, it is also a comparative study of modern poetry on both the Eastern and Western side of the great political divide, known as “the iron curtain,” as well as a polemic with Western postmodern philosophical theories from French structuralism and deconstructivism to American cultural criticism and New Historicism. Cavanagh manages to do justice to all three endeavors, but it is the polemical aspect of her study that is of particular interest. The book provides a new perspective on recent critical discussions of the lyric as politically and socially irrelevant. It offers a welcome “Slavic corrective” to the narrow and myopic approach to the problem by American critics. Cavanagh demonstrates how the practice of personal lyric in totalitarian states such as Poland and Russia, far from being escapist, was a bold political statement and a costly act. She shows how “intensely private” poems were often an expression of values shared by the collectivity, thus performing “a public service.” In the context of programmatic collectivism, the personal lyric reverberates with a special singularity, and it was not the odes to Stalin but love poems that carried political weight and sent their authors to gulags or reduced them to silence. By including in her narrative the stories of often tragic fates of poets, Cavanagh makes her critical argument even more poignant. Cavanagh’s selection of poets is judicious. Whitman, Yeats, Mayakovski, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Brodsky, Milosz, Herbert, Szymborska, Zagajewski –these are the names that define the 20th-century lyric while they represent an array of different poetic schools, styles, and philosophies. this book is a master work that will richly reward readers from all disciplines.

Neal Pease has written one of the best works on interwar Poland in several decades, in any language, as well as the most serious and thorough work on the Catholic Church in modern Poland. Rome’s Most Faithful Daughter tackles one of the most vexing questions of modern Polish history, the relationship between Catholicism and Polish politics. Pease places the triangular relationships among the Church hierarchy in Poland, the government of the fledgling Polish state and the Vatican within an international context and against the background of European politics in the 1920s and 1930s. The presentation of the interwar Church caught between traditional Catholicism and its traditional role as the guardian of Polish national identity on the one hand, and the modern secular culture on the other hand, is illuminating as well as subtle and nuanced. Avoiding sweeping generalizations about Polish Catholicism and Polish politics, Pease succeeds in maintaining a balance along some of the most treacherous canyons of Polish studies. When discussing the anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church in Poland, for example, Pease exposes the frequent duplicity of the Polish episcopate, and also places it in a broad European context, especially in comparison with Nazi racist attitudes in neighboring Germany. He is thus able to indicate how the Church’s uneasy relationship with Poland’s sizeable Jewish community would lay the groundwork for Poles’ destructive ambivalence during the Holocaust and afterward. Rome’s Most Faithful Daughteris written with verve and wit, and is based upon thorough archival research. Pease displays a gift for succinct presentation of an era, an event, or a personage, capturing salient characteristics without ignoring its complexities. He captures the Polish sense of mission; the needs and desires of those difficult decades; and most importantly, a sense of what all this has to do with Poland’s (and Polish citizens’) terrible fate after 1939. It will become essential reading for historians of Poland and of the Church in interwar Europe.


Tomasz Inglot for Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919-2004 (Cambridge University Press), and Roman Koropeckyj, Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic (Cornell University Press)

Tomasz Inglot’s book Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919-2004 is a major contribution to our understanding of social policy in the region prior to the communist regimes, under communism, and in the post-communist transition period. A rigorous examination of any one of the eras and types of social policy he covers would have strengthened our understanding of the topic; covering all of them makes this book the major work in the field to date. With its historical and institutional analysis of Polish, Czech and Slovak, and Hungarian cases using the methods and standards of policy analysis in the West, the book also makes a strong contribution to the comparative study of European welfare states. From the vantage point of the Orbis prize, Inglot’s analysis of Polish social policies on its own, let alone in comparative relief, creates new knowledge about very important phenomena in Poland over the course of a century.

The combination of rigor, breadth, and deep research presented in this study is truly impressive. The book integrates analysis of institutions and policy processes in the arena of social policy and relates changes in this policy sphere to more general political and economic developments, including crisis moments that generate a different mode of policymaking. Leaving any of these aspects out would have weakened the author’s analysis – tackling them all was extremely ambitious and produced a compelling and revealing account of social policy and its formation in the region. The author also used his research on social welfare systems to break down the disjunctures implied by the categories of pre-communist, communist, post-communist and to restore historical complexity to blanket notions about the “Eastern bloc” under Soviet domination. He makes a convincing case that all communist regimes were not the same, even in the matter of social policy. While he criticizes some standard social science methods and interpretations, he chooses selectively from among them to develop an unusually nuanced theory. The complexity of this approach allows balanced and sensitive examination of each case while avoiding the trap of reducing explanation to “national characteristics.”

For both its rich content and its sophisticated interpretation, Welfare States in East Central Europe will remain the standard for the field for a long time to come.

A poet so deeply identified with romantic nationalism is not easy to introduce to the English-speaking world. Indeed, scholars in Polish Studies have long known that their students and colleagues are unlikely to be able to appreciate the greatness of Mickiewicz’s art or the significance of his life. That is no longer the case. Roman Koropeckyj’s Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic is not just the first major biography of the great Polish poet in English, though that would be achievement enough. It is truly a monumental feat for any scholar. Koropeckyj’s biography presents one of Polish history’s most remarkable figures as he has never been seen in English. It is a portrait, indeed, which is as valuable as any we have in any language. Koropeckyj draws on a thorough knowledge of Mickiewicz’s life and times, following the poet from Lithuania to Russia to Paris and, finally, to death in Istanbul. With equal dexterity, he shows us the student revolutionary, the celebrated exile, the acclaimed lecturer, the devoted mystic, the fervent journalist, and the military adventurer. He weaves together cogent analyses of Mickiewicz’s greatest works with astute portraits of the women and men in Mickiewicz’s life, and a sober understanding of the ideas both familiar and bizarre that moved the bard. In Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic, Roman Koropeckyj has succeeded in making Adam Mickiewicz accessible and, indeed, necessary to the scholarship of the twenty-first century. Its lucidity, exemplary research, and remarkable even-handedness towards its legend-encrusted subject mark it as a major contribution not just to anglophone scholars of European Romanticism, but to all students of Mickiewicz in whatever language or culture.


Samuel D. Kassow for Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Indiana University Press)

At its most immediate, Who Will Write Our History? is the story of how Emmanuel Ringelblum organized a remarkable network of chroniclers to preserve the record of ways of life already past, and of a life none had chosen, in the Warsaw Ghetto. This story is one most of us know in bare outline, but Samuel Kassow takes us into the workings of the collectives that conceived and parcelled out assignments; into the lives of the poets, journalists, and scholars who compiled the Oyneg Shabes Archive; and into the efforts to preserve and then rescue that archive. It is in this a masterpiece of reconstruction, a deeply moving narrative of life and death – and of a life, of an archive, after death. But Kassow does so much more, as he shows us that Ringelblum faced in the Ghetto a task he had trained for all his life, as a historian with a discerning eye for sources, and as an activist dedicated to the ideals of community self-help. The task Ringelblum set himself was more than simply chronicling, but also, through history, recapturing the Jewish tradition in Poland. In the last months of his life, in fact, Ringelblum writes – in Polish, in the corner of a crowded bunker outside the now-obliterated Ghetto – a history of Polish-Jewish relations in the present. Kassow’s work shows us, in vivid and vital detail, how the work of a historian can have redemptive power amidst tragedy, and how history’s task is to confront and even create life. To read this book is to understand in a new way the power of meticulous and passionate scholarship – a scholarship which finds an echo in Kassow’s labors as well.


Marci Shore for Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation’s Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968(Yale University Press), and Geneviève Zubrzycki, The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland (University of Chicago Press)

Marci Shore’s magisterial account of a generation of Warsaw literati tells one of the most important Polish stories of the 20th century. This thoroughly researched and compellingly narrated book is full of revealing detail about a cohort of intellectuals who shaped much of Poland’s post-war history. Shore traces a group of artists and writers whose life and work were all defined by their relationship to Marxism. By bridging the temporal boundaries in 20th century Polish history, she demonstrates the continuities in Polish intellectual life even in the face of the disjuncture of the Soviet imposition of communism. Moreover, she gracefully integrates a discussion of what it meant to be an assimilated Jew in modern Poland into her analysis.

In The Crosses of Auschwitz, Geneviève Zubrzycki presents a sophisticated analysis of a critically important and complex theme in Polish history: the relationship between Roman Catholicism and Polish national identity. Using a rich variety of sources and research methods – from archival research to in-depth interviews, from content analysis to participant observation – Zubrzycki examines the controversy over crosses placed on the outskirts of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in the broader context of debates about the meaning of “Polishness” in a contemporary, post-communist Poland. Her book is an important contribution not only to Polish studies, but also to a more universal discussion about the relationship between religion and nationalism and to cultural sociology in general. Her analysis of the process of secularization of religious symbols and their re-sacralization as national symbols adds novel elements to theoretical themes developed by Émile Durkheim and his followers.


Timothy J. Cooley for Making Music in the Polish Tatras: Tourists, Ethnographers, and Mountain Musicians (Indiana University Press)

Making Music in the Polish Tatras is a formidable contribution to the discipline of ethnomusicology, demonstrating Timothy Cooleys deep understanding of the subtleties of the music of Podhale. He offers a technically sophisticated presentation that will appeal to specialists in his field, but this book deserves to reach a much broader audience because of its anthropologically and historically rich exploration of Grale identity. Cooley explores how ethnicity is created and re-created, polemicizing against an essentialist understanding of folk culture by showing how Grale music is produced through the interaction of the local population with a variety of outsiders (including musicologists such as himself). Tracing the evolution of the regions music from the late 19th century to the present day, Cooley shows how tourists, scholars, and musicians from other traditions have all contributed to the definition of what authentic Grale music should sound like. At the same time, this book presents the people of Podhale as active agents in the creation of their own music, not as passive objects in an abstract process of ethnic construction. Making Music in the Polish Tatras describes this music in many settings, including private weddings, tourist restaurants, folk festivals, and even a fascinating collaborative world music project involving Grale and reggae musicians. Cooley draws upon many different methodologies to make his argument, moving from detailed technical analysis of musical forms (with a CD accompanying the book to illustrate his claims), to an archival study of early 20th century Podhale ethnography, to a participant anthropology of music making today.