The Jan Karski and Pola Nireńska Prize awarding ceremony

This year, the Prize was awarded to Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota — philosopher, translator, essayist, publicist. For many years, she had worked at the Polish Scientific Publishers at the philosophy department and at the JHI Bulletin editorial staff. Since 1997, she has worked as an editor and columnist in „Midrasz”. She translated from French, Russian and Yiddish, published books and a vast number of articles dedicated to Yiddish-language literature. She received scholarships of the City of Warsaw (2010) and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (2011), as well as the Father Stanisław Musiał Prize (2016).

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Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota

Guests were welcomed by Anna Duńczyk-Szulc, deputy director of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute. Afterwards, Professor Szymon Rudnicki, who spoke on behalf of the jury, recalled the founders of the prize – Jan Karski and his wife Pola Nireńska – and briefly explained the verdict.

There was no doubts that the Prize should be awarded to Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota. She should have received it a long time ago – it’s only due to circumstances that it happens only this year. (…) Bella’s contributions to the popularization of Jewish culture have been versatile, also in the field of language – she has written many articles about Jewish literature (…) she wasn’t only writing about these authors, but also translating and publishing. (…) additionally, Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota is a famous translator, she has translated several dozen books (…) aside from writing and translating, she has published several books, she’s also participating in academic conferences and remains a dedicated promoter of Jewish music. Her merits are unrivalled. Congratulations!

Dr hab. Alina Molisak from the University of Warsaw has delivered a laudatory speech.

Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota, the epitome of the living tradition of Jewish Vilnius

Why such a title? Because of personal, family ties to Vilnius and to the Vilnius heritage. Whilst writing about the existence and functioning of Jewish education and cultural institution, Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota dedicated one of her articles not only to a phenomenon important in history, but also to the story of her own family. (...) The circle of family and friends, in which our laureate grew up, remained dedicated to the rich Yiddish culture (even after the Holocaust), and at the same time – treated the Polish space as their own, natural environment, which wasn’t – and still isn’t – an easy experience, when we encounter hostility towards our own identity.

The second issue regards memory and continuing tradition. Understanding the significance of tradition has, I believe, shaped  Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota’s activity in many areas. It is a need to maintain the rituals which add order to the daily life, and remain important, because they help maintain and pass the tradition – but, on the other hand, said tradition has not only cultural significance, but also helps continue the Jewish identity, fragile and difficult to preserve in today’s ethnically homogenous Poland. (...)

Another issue is professional continuity. If we tried to describe Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota’s professional activity, we’d have to use many names. She’s a philosopher, translator, essayist, publicist. For many years, she had worked at the Polish Scientific Publishers at the philosophy department and at the JHI Bulletin editorial staff. Since 1997, she has worked as an editor and columnist in „Midrasz”. As Professor Rudnicki mentioned, she translated from French, Russian and Yiddish, published books and a vast number of articles dedicated to Yiddish-language literature. She received scholarships of the City of Warsaw (2010) and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (2011), as well as the Father Stanisław Musiał Prize (2016). Such a brief biography cannot cover everything – or even convey the fact that the laureate’s intellectual activity takes so many diverse forms. They’re not limited to publications – academic essays, translations, columns, articles. For many years, Bella Szwarcman has been giving lectures at the Austrian Forum of Culture, or at the Shalom Foundation’s Centre for Yiddish Culture. She’s an active participant of academic meetings and debates, also cooperating with others on important projects. Last but not least, she’s an author of exceptional books. (...) It has to be emphasised that Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota is a pioneer and expert on the subject of Jewish women in Polish science. She has dedicated four books to this subject, believing that it is necessary to give voice to women – both those present in the Torah, as well as those who have contributed to the history of Judaism, Jewish culture and people. (...)

It can be certainly said that Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota, apart from remaining an epitome of the best traditions of Jewish Vilnius, continues them in many dimensions. One of them is a family dimension – yet the circle of close people includes also friendships. Another dimension is the intellectual sphere – expanding knowledge and dedicating to her own development, but also sharing reflections and thoughts with readers of „Midrasz”, her books, listeners of her lectures. This deep reflection on written word, an ability to teach others, a kind invitation to dialogue make her – in my eyes, but not only – an epitome of mentschlechkeit, and a great continuator of the Vilnius traditions, her family heritage, the educational heritage, the tradition of facing intellectual challenges important for preserving the culture of Judaism. My heartfelt congratulations for such a special author!

Eventually, the laureate herself — Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota — spoke as well. She said: Let me begin from heartfelt thanks for the Jury, for my family, friends and loved ones. For everyone here – because without you, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now. Hardly anyone writes only for themselves and wants to talk only to themselves. I wanted initially to talk to my family, my daughter and my husband, about the family history, the Jewish history, the links between generations who preserved the Jewishness. It isn’t easy to be only a droplet in the sea. So initially, I wanted to equip my daughter with the knowledge I had. The Jewish Historical Institute was my first place on theis road, after I’ve left the  Polish Scientific Publishers, and it was no coincidence. Later, my work at Midrasz – I’ve been personally invited by its founder Konstanty Gebert, and even though I didn;t play the role he imagined for me, I found my place and believed it was right. I’ve spent 21 years there, intensively working and learning. (…) this special prize is a responsibility. I’m responsible now for remembering about the founders of the prize and who it commemorates – Jan Karski and Pola Nireńska.

After the laureate’s short speech, an unofficial part of the event followed. Guests could give their personal congratulations.































































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