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Justyna Majewska
Junior Fellow (11/2018–05/2019)

 

Visions of the Social Changes in the Warsaw Ghetto between 1940 and 1942

 

MAJEWSKAAnalysing social changes that emerged in the Jewish community when trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto, my doctoral dissertation explores these shifts through the lenses of Jews, Nazi Germans, and Poles.
Drawing on social studies theories, I examine the Warsaw Ghetto as an area of various, rapid, and traumatic social changes. Originating in terror, plunder, and separation, these led to the pauperisation and degradation of social structures. My analysis is fixed between 1940 and 1942, when the isolated Jewish community was most susceptible to changes in social structure. Nevertheless, I show that various social and political processes had their origins in the 1930s and beyond.

 

First, I analyse the process behind the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto. Starting from the Nazi understanding of the term ghetto before the war, I scrutinise the process of establishing the Warsaw Ghetto in comparison to other ghettos in occupied Poland and in the context of the “Nisko” and “Madagaskar” resettlement plans.

 

Fears and predictions regarding life in the ghetto were core elements of the Jewish perspective. Responses to the imposed reality were rooted in personal experiences as well as the history of the persecution of Jews across Europe. Although the Nazis saw the Jewish community in the ghetto as homogeneous, it was a complex group. In the imposed ghetto reality, various political circles remained active. Zionists, Socialists, and Bundists, acculturated and religious Jews pondered not only how to survive the present but also their future. Intense debates focussed on the expected social structure of Jewry, the language Jews would speak, education, and the professions the post-war generation would pursue.

 

Finally, my dissertation addresses the issue of the Polish perspective on the ghetto phenomenon. Starting from Polish ideas of dealing with national minorities proposed by Polish right-wing politicians and intellectuals in 1930s, I aim to examine the extent to which Poles, especially the intelligentsia, were able to change their pre-war negative attitude towards Jews.
In the dissertation, I will use documents from the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto (Ringelblum Archive) as well as other wartime and post-war documents from the Jewish Historical Institute at Yad Vashem and the USHMM. I will also use documents of German authorities and draw from the Polish press and diaries of intelligentsia.

 

Justyna Majewska is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School for Social Research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw. She works in the Research Department of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. She is also a member of the editorial board of the Polish scholarly journal Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały (Holocaust Studies and Materials).

 

She received her MA in Cultural Studies from the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin and completed a postgraduate certificate course in Exhibiting Contemporary History at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena. She was an EHRI fellow at the Yad Vashem Institute. She is an editor of the Kalisz letters published by the Jewish Historical Institute in a series of scholarly editions of documents from the Ringelblum Archive. She has published in Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały and East European Jewish Affairs.

 

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The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI) is funded by:

 

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