Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2011 Citation Recipient

Antony Polonsky

The Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies (formerly the Orbis Book Prize), established in 1996 and sponsored by the Kulczycki family, former owners of the Orbis Books Ltd. of London, England, is awarded annually for the best book in any discipline, on any aspect of Polish affairs, published in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Antony Polonsky
Title: 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: Bo┼╝ena Shallcross
Title: The Holocaust Object in Polish and Polish-Jewish Culture (Indiana University Press)