Antony Polonsky wins prize for work on Polish history

'The Jews in Poland and Russia' honored as best Polish history in a foreign language

Antony Polonsky accepts his prize in Krakow Sept. 13.

Professor Antony Polonsky has been awarded the Pro Historia Polonorum Prize for the best recent Polish history written in a foreign language. The award was announced at the International Congress of Polish History and Book Fair held in Krakow this month. The prize was established by the Polish Senate and is awarded every five years.

Polonsky, the Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies, earned the honor for his three-volume monograph, “The Jews in Poland and Russia.” The work is a comprehensive political, social, economic and religious survey of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe from 1350 to the present.

“It’s interesting that they regarded a book on the history of Jews in Russia as a book on Polish history,” Polonsky said. “It shows how much the country has changed. It reflects a broad concept of Polishness, which includes Jews.”

Polonsky is a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, and studied at the University of Witwatersrand and Oxford. He spent his student years as a Marxist-Leninist sympathizer and joined the ranks of the Solidarity movement in Poland, but his views changed with the defeat of the first Solidarity movement in 1981.

He began researching Stalinism and the treatment of Poland in the post-World War II era, and later, Solidarity, but he also found Poles and Jews were divided by incompatible views of their shared past. Reconciling the two became the heart of his life’s work.

“I would like from the bottom of my heart to thank the speakers of the Senate and the members of the committee who have given me this prize,” Polonsky said in his acceptance speech. “I have, however, one small reservation… I do no consider myself a foreign historian of Poland. I studied here and what I know about the history of Poland I have learned from Polish colleagues. What is more, in some sense I consider myself a Pole, or rather a Jewish Pole or Polish Jew.”

Polonsky founded Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, which he has edited for the past quarter century. The journal became an important resource for contributors to new understandings of Polish and East European Jewry.

He began teaching at Brandeis in 1991 and two years later was given the Walter Stern Hilborn Chair in Judaic and Social Studies. From 1995 to 1998, he chaired the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. In 1999, he was appointed the Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies, which he continues to hold jointly at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C., and at Brandeis.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage