Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2015 Citation Recipient

Michael Fleming

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.

Co-Winner: Michael Fleming
Title: 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.

Co-Winner: Per Andres Rudling

Honorable Mention: Glenn Kurtz
Title: 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.