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The People Write! Polish Everyman Biography from the Great Depression to the Holocaust


This project conducted by VWI alumna Kate Lebow in the framework of an Elise Richter Programme of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) was based at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI) and examined the autobiographies of farmers, workers, and other ‘ordinary people’ in Poland during the interwar period. Inspired by the Chicago School, Polish sociologists in the 1920s organised annual competitions for the creation of autobiographies as a means to collect personal narratives from workers, farmers, youths, ethnic minorities, the unemployed, and other individuals.


The best texts from among each social group received awards. This ‘Polish method of social research’, as it soon became internationally known, exceeded all expectations of the involved researches. Right into the 1930s, these competitions produced a living culture of the composition of personal testimony encompassing the most varied milieus, from agricultural youth groups through to Jewish cultural circles


Through an interdisciplinary and transnational approach, this project examines these social biographies against the broad backdrop of the mid-twentieth-century fascination with documentary representations of the ‘little man’. This project was not so concerned with what social autobiographies communicated about Poland in the interwar period, but rather with how local narrative practices impact globally.


The project was completed in September 2016.

May 2024
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The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI) is funded by:


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