In This Article Warsaw

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Memorial Books (Yizker Bikher)
  • Academic Collections
  • Reference Works
  • Memoirs
  • Collections of Historical Documents
  • Journals
  • Prepartition History (Until 1795)

Jewish Studies Warsaw
by
Scott Ury
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0018

Introduction

Home to the largest concentration of Jews on the European continent for most of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, Warsaw, its Jewish residents, and its Jewish community have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. Although Jewish residence in the city remained restricted until the late 18th century, rapid urbanization led to the rise of the Jewish population to over 300,000 Jewish residents by the outbreak of the First World War. As the site of Europe’s largest Jewish center, many key developments in modern Jewish history, society, and culture took place in the city. These include the growth of Hasidism, the emergence of a local version of the Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah), the appearance of circles that advocated Jewish integration into Polish society, and the formation and dominance of the new Jewish economic elite. These changes were followed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the growth of modern political movements, new projects for the production of modern Jewish culture, and a variety of communal institutions that ranged from local prayer houses to large-scale educational systems. Warsaw was also the center of the Polish national movement and later, the center of independent, Communist and post-Communist Poland. As such, Warsaw was very often the site and focus of debates and conflicts between Poles and Jews over the definition of the city and the nation that it came to represent. Much of this civilization came to a sudden and horrific end after the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the Nazis’ implementation of the Final Solution in Polish lands. Thus, while some 250,000 Jews returned to Poland after World War II, the dark shadow of the Holocaust, the long arm of Stalinism, and the successive waves of (forced) migration have led many to view “the Jews of Warsaw” as a Jewish community that ceased to exist after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943. Although challenged by late-20th- and early-21st-century scholarship, the image of an entire civilization that suddenly disappeared continues to influence both popular and academic interpretations of Jewish history, society, and culture in Warsaw. Designed as a research tool for students, scholars, and readers interested in the history and culture of Jews, Poles, and Polish Jews in Warsaw, the books, collections, and articles detailed in this article are also a testimony to the far-reaching changes that have taken place in the very way that Warsaw, its Jewish residents, and their Polish neighbors are imagined, researched, studied, and taught.

General Overviews

In wake of the cataclysmic events of the Second World War, a series of general histories of the Jews in Warsaw were published as part of concerted efforts to record and memorialize the Jews of Warsaw and their community. Oftentimes composed by former residents of the city, early works in Flinker 1948 and Levinson 1953 tended to emphasize communal institutions and leaders, as did the definitive, three-volume Yiddish-language set Shatzky 1947–1953. The informative, if eclectic, collection of shorter essays contained in Kroszczor 1979 in Polish similarly focuses on leaders and institutions. In addition to these histories of Jews in Warsaw, more general academic volumes contain much useful information on Jewish society and culture in the city. These include a six-volume history of Warsaw, Kieniewicz, et al. 1976–1990, and the recent overview of the Jews of Poland and Russia in Polonsky 2010–2012.

  • Flinker, David. Varshah: ‘Arim ve-imahot be-Yisrael. Vol. 3. Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1948.

    E-mail Citation »

    Part of a series of popular histories composed in Israel in wake of the Second World War, this communal history of Jews in Warsaw focuses on official institutions, leaders, and organizations. Much emphasis is placed on Zionist activity and leaders in the city. Although written for a popular audience, the volume contains much useful information for students and scholars and serves as a solid basis for further studies.

  • Kieniewicz, Stefan, Maria Bogucka, Krzysztof Dunin-Wąsowicz, and Jan Górski, eds. Dzieje Warszawy. 6 vols. Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1976–1990.

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    This six-volume Polish-language history of the city of Warsaw begins with the city’s origins and continues up until 1990. Different sections are very often written by individual authors under the supervision of a general editor, thus lending each volume a sense of unity and diversity. While specific sections dedicated to Jews in Warsaw are limited, the collection often addresses Jewish figures and related issues indirectly.

  • Kroszczor, Henryk. Kartki z historii Żydów w Warszawie XIX–XX wieku. Warsaw: Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 1979.

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    An excellent collection of short entries that were originally published in the Yiddish weekly Folks-sztime. Out of five sections, four describe the lives and actions of important Jewish activists, publishers, physicians, and scientists. Readers and scholars will find much information here on the many different figures and institutions active among Warsaw’s Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • Levinson, Avraham. Toldot Yehude Varshah. Tel Aviv: ‘Am ‘oved, 1953.

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    Written in Israel after the Holocaust, this popular history focuses on the 19th and 20th centuries. The book emphasizes Hebrew culture, Zionist activism, and Jewish communal institutions. The work is organized around short sections dedicated to specific individuals or institutions and thus makes for a useful, quasi-encyclopedic resource. The author was a resident of the city and this lends first-hand aura to the work.

  • Polonsky, Antony. The Jews in Poland and Russia. 3 vols. Oxford: Littman, 2010–2012.

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    This massive survey of the history of Jews in Polish and Russian lands begins in the 14th century and continues to the early-21st-century. While the scope is expansive, much attention is paid to the history of Jews (and Poles) in Warsaw. The author lends preference to politics and literature over other realms. An incredibly important and useful resource for students and scholars.

  • Shatzky, Jacob. Geshikhte fun Yidn in Varshe. 3 vols. New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1947–1953.

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    This three-volume Yiddish history written immediately after World War II is one of the more comprehensive surveys of Jewish society and culture in Warsaw. The author was a former resident of the city and his attempts to reconstruct the history of the city of his youth focuses on communal organizations, institutions, and leaders. The third volume ends in the late 19th century.

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