Thoroughly researched, Conscious History: Polish Jewish Historians before the Holocaust (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2021) highlights the historical scholarship that is one of the lasting legacies of interwar Polish Jewry and analyses its political and social context. As Jewish citizens struggled to assert their place in a newly independent Poland, a dedicated group of Jewish scholars fascinated by history devoted themselves to creating a sense of Polish Jewish belonging while also fighting for their rights as an ethnic minority. The political climate made it hard for these men and women to pursue an academic career; instead they had to continue their efforts to create and disseminate Polish Jewish history by teaching outside the university and publishing in scholarly and popular journals. By introducing the Jewish public to a pantheon of historical heroes to celebrate and anniversaries to commemorate, they sought to forge a community aware of its past, its cultural heritage, and its achievements---though no less important were their efforts to counter the increased hostility towards Jews in the public discourse of the day. In highlighting the role of public intellectuals and the social role of scholars and historical scholarship, this study adds a new dimension to the understanding of the Polish Jewish world in the interwar period.
Natalia Aleksiun is Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Touro College New York. She published Where to? The Zionist Movement in Poland, 1944-1950 and co-edited two volumes of Polin examining Holocaust memory and Jewish historiography. She has recently published a critical edition of The Destruction of Żółkiew Jews by Gershon Taffet. She is preparing a volume of Polin devoted to Jewish childhoods, children and child rearing in Eastern Europe. She is also completing two books on Jewish medical students in East Central Europe and on daily life in hiding in Eastern Galicia. She is coeditor in chief of East European Jewish Affairs.
Steven Seegel is Professor of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.