Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2008 Citation Recipient

Samuel D. Kassow

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: Samuel D. Kassow
Title: 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.