The ceremony of awarding Prof Barbara Engelking The Jan Karski & Pola Nirenska Prize

Professor Barbara Engelking will give lecture entitled „Dreams as source for Holocaust research”.

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The Award Committee of the Jan Karski and Pola Nirenska Prize, in 2013 awarded prof. dr hab. Barbara Engelking. The prize, founded by Prof Jan Karski in 1992 and administered by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, is awarded to the authors of publications dealing with Jewish life in Poland and reflecting the contribution of Jews int Polish culture.The winner is chosen by the Award Committee whose members are Prof Jerzy Tomaszewski, Prof Feliks Tych, Prof Paweł Śpiewak (director, Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw), Dr Jonathan Brent (Executive Director, YIVO Institute For Jewish Research). 

Prof Paweł Śpiewak, director of the Jewish Historical Institute, while congratulating the laureate said, „The fact that the Jewish Historical Institute for the twenty-first time is the host of such a prestigious event, which is the Jan Karski prize ceremony is not only a great source of pride. It is also a commitment made by the Jewish Historical Institute — one of the world’s top research institutes involved in the history of the Jews — to be a modern treasury of Jewish cultural heritage. The process of digitising the vast collection of the Institute (which began in 2012), the improvement of its infrastructure — these are just some of the activities aimed at increasing the availability of the collections and engaging the institution in a global network of research on the contemporary Jewish history. Currently, we are developing new series of publications. The most important are: a series of 30 volumes publishing the Ringelblum Archive (so far 10 volumes have come out); the series MEMOIRS, ACCOUNTS, DIARIES; a series of books describing the achievements of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland; editio maior of the publications of the Central Jewish Historical Commission and anthologies of texts destined for academic circles.”

After the laudation given by Director of the Jewish Historical Institute Prof Pawel Śpiewak, Prof Barbara Engelking gave a lecture entitled „Dreams as a source for the Holocaust research.”

Prof Engelking opened her disquisition with a thesis that although dreams are not a reflection of reality, they belong to the sphere of human creations, and as such they belong to real life. Dreams reflect the feelings, often more intensely than in a situation when a man tries to describe them awake. From today’s point of view, they can significantly facilitate the understanding of a very complex emotions that accompanied the experience of the Holocaust. Prof Engelking has collected 137 dreams from the period of the Holocaust, of which seven were discussed by her during the lecture. Below is one of them — a nightmare of Pola Wawer.

Prof Engelking related, Pola Wawer was hiding with her parents in Świr, a town close to Vilnius. Due to the necessity of raising funds they circulated between Vilnius and the hiding place. Once, while she was waiting in Vilnius at her friends’ for the opportunity to return to her parents, she dreamed that «we are going with father, just as it used to be, to mom at night. But not in turns through the forest and dirt road, but through the swamp, which bends under our legs and slurps any time we are pulling our legs out of it. Father goes first, as if he is searching for firmer ground. The swamp is becoming deeper and deeper.

At some point, father is not able to pull his legs out of the mud and he is starting to sink. I can see how he is immersing in the mire looking me in the eyes. ’Do not come here, Pola, do not come!’ he is constantly warning me. Terrified, I obey him and ask what to do? Maybe I’ll tear a piece of clothing, I’ll throw you the end and pull it towards me. And my father says, ’No, dear, you will not make it. It must be so. Just do not go this way, come back, please.’ Father before my eyes is sinking deeper and deeper. I can see how the swamp goes up to his mouth and nose. I want to scream, but I can’t. Only when the mud has covered his mouth and my father has stopped talking to me, do I start to scream, and then someone grabs my arm.» It was the host. Pola had been screaming out loud with terror in her sleep, and in her memoirs she makes a comment, ’There is no mysticism in me and I do not treat this dream as a prophetic premonition of the events. It was just how my subconscious had processed my overflowing anxieties and fears.

Prof Engelking concluded, „These anxieties and fears turned out to be justified: after a few days it turned out that her father had been killed by a man named Sobolewski, who had been haunting the family for some time, in order to turn them in to the Germans.”

The text by Prof Barbara Engelking „Dreams as a source for the Holocaust research” is to be published at the end of October and the beginning of November 2013 in the 9th issue of the journal „Holocaust Studies and Materials”.

Professor Barbara Engelking is a psychologist and sociologist, the head of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw (IFiS PAN). She studies the history of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews. In 1993 she was granted a PhD in Humanities by the IFiS PAN. She defended her PhD thesis entitles „Doświadczenie Holocaustu i jego konsekwencje w relacjach autobiograficznych” [The experience of the Holocaust and its consequences in the autobiographical accounts] written under the direction of Prof Aldona Jawłowska-Konstanciak. In 2002 she was granted by the IFiS PAN a humanities habilitation in sociology (specialising in sociology of culture) based on habilitation thesis „Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide Through the Perished City”.

Her research interests include the experience of the Holocaust in the accounts of the Survivors and an attempt to describe this experience taking into account all other available sources (official documents and papers, letters, accounts and memoirs) and perspectives (of the victims, 

witnesses, perpetrators), the history of the Warsaw Ghetto and its everyday life and well as everyday life of occupied Warsaw, challenges and moral dilemmas of the Holocaust period. 

Professor Barbara Engelking is also the founder of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research, which she has been the head of since its creation in 2003. The center publishes a yearly magazine „Holocaust Studies and Materials”, which has already had 8 issues. At the Center works a group of co-workers, professionals in various fields who share the desire to explore the situation of the Jews on the soil of General Government, who had no possibilities whatsoever to save their lives. The researchers focus to great extend on the Jews-escapees seeking help and rescue among the local population, and who often met with reluctance or outright hostility and willingness to cooperate with the occupant in tracking down still hiding survivors.


A special place among the works of the author has a substantial volume, written with Jacek Leociak „Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide Through the Perished City”.

The authors write:

„The guide takes you round the city which does not exist. It is made up of many individual records, testimonies and documents. On this basis, the authors reconstruct the topography of the ghetto, and the realities of the atmosphere of those places and days... The only area where you can still find the ghetto inhabitants and their houses, streets, with their life, suffering and death is our memory. "

Other publications:

  • Holocaust and memory, Leicester University Press, London, New York, 2001 (originally published in Polish as „ Zagłada i pamięć”)
  • ’Szanowny panie Gistapo’. Donosy do władz niemieckich w Warszawie i okolicach w latach 1940–1941, the Polish Center for Holocaust Research and IFiS PAN Publishing, 2003
  • Pamięć, Historia Żydów Polskich przed, w czasie i po Zagładzie, Fundacja SHALOM Publishing, Warsaw 2005
  • Prowincja noc. Życie i zagłada Żydów w dystrykcie Warszawskim, the Polish Center for Holocaust Research i IFiS PAN Publishing, Warsaw 2007; ed. and one chapte
      • Warsaw Ghetto. The Guide through the Perished City (with Jacek Leociak), Yale University Press, July 2009 (originally published in Polish as „Getto warszawskie. Przewodnik po nieistniejącym mieście”)
      • Żydzi w powstańczej Warszawie (with D. Libionka), Warsaw 2009
      • Żydów łamiących prawo należy karać śmiercią! „Przestępczość” Żydów w Warszawie, 1939–1942 (with Jan Grabowski), Warsaw 2010
      • JEST TAKI PIĘKNY SŁONECZNY DZIEŃ... Losy Żydów szukających ratunku na wsi polskiej 1942–1945, Warsaw 2011

          Jan Karski was born Jan Romuald Kozielewski on 24th 1914 June in Lodz and he grew up in the multi-cultural neighbourhood. As he recalled himself, his family lived in a building where the majority of the residents were of Jewish origin. Karski graduated from Law and Diplomacy at the University of Lwow in 1935 and after completing diplomatic practice, in January 1939, he found employment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.After the attack of the USSR on Poland, on 17th September, 1939, he was in Soviet captivity, but was included in the prisoner swap between the Germans and the USSR. Only privates were allowed to participate in the swap, so Karski changed his officer uniform for a private uniform claiming he was a worker from Lodz. Thanks to this stratagem, he did not share the fate of the officers killed in the Katyn massacre.In November he escaped from a German transport and arrived in Warsaw, where he went underground. Since January 1940 he had been a courier on behalf of the Polish underground leaders and participated in courier missions to the Polish government in France, to which he delivered reports on the situation in occupied Poland.In the autumn of 1942, Jan Karski went on his most important mission: he was to deliver to the government in London a report on the situation of the Polish people. The Jewish leaders made it possible for him to enter the Warsaw Ghetto, from which since July 22, 1942 300 000 Jews had already been deported to the Treblinka extermination camp.

          Entering the closed quarter was for Karski the kind of experience that influenced his further actions. Since that time, he had had one goal: to deliver a report on the Warsaw Ghetto to the West and to move public opinion, so that the leaders of the free world would save the Jews who were still alive.Next, Jan Karski made his way to the Nazi transit camp in Izbica, through which the Jews were transported to the death camps at Belzec and Sobibor. He saw there what the stage of the immediate extermination looked like.In late November, Karski went to London and prepared a written report for the government-in-exile and gave a report to British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden. On 10th December, 1942, on the basis of the documents brought by Karski: microfilms and notes, the foreign minister of the Government of the Republic of Poland in London, Edward Raczynski, presented to the Allies a detailed report on the Holocaust.In July 1943, he met with U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Karski proposed bombing German cities, or even the destruction of the death camps themselves if the Nazis did not stop murdering Jews. Many people who Karski told about the ghettos and the death camps did not believe what he was saying. 36 years later, Karski himself of what he had seen in the ghetto and camp in Izbica Kujawska said to Claude Lanzmann, „It was not really happening. They were not people. It was some sort of hell.’’

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