The Great Synagogue (right), the Judaic Studies Library, and the Institute of Judaic Studies (Żydowski Instytut Historyczny), Warsaw, ca. 1936. Postcard printed in Poland. (YIVO)

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Jewish Historical Institute

(Żydowski Instytut Historyczny; ŻIH), research institute, archive, library, and museum in Warsaw. The Jewish Historical Institute grew out of the Jewish Historical Committee (Żydowska Komisja Historyczna), a Holocaust research body organized in Lublin in August 1944. Among the founders were Filip Friedman, Nachman Blumental, Józef Kermisz, and Abba Kovner. In December 1944, the commission became an agency of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKŻP) and was renamed the Central Jewish Historical Commission (Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna).

One of the organization’s first projects was to prepare elaborate questionnaires for groups of Holocaust survivors. By December 1945, some 3,000 testimonies had been collected, constituting one of the most significant bodies of evidence about the Holocaust gathered in the immediate postwar years. In early 1945, the commission began publishing annotated editions of these responses. It then sought monographs on the Holocaust in Poland, based largely on evidence it had gathered. By late 1947, the commission had collected about 7,300 testimonies and had published 38 books.

Housed in a reconstructed building on Tłomackie Street in Warsaw that had been the Institute of Judaic Studies before the war, in 1947 the commission reconstituted itself as the Jewish Historical Institute, signaling its transformation into a full-fledged Holocaust research center. However, pressure from the Communist regime and mass Jewish emigration drastically curtailed Jewish research. In 1946, the commission had published 24 books, but in 1947 the newly formed institution issued just 8. By 1948, publication had been reduced to only a single brochure, together with the journal Bleter far geshikhte, which was founded the same year. In 1949–1950, no books at all were published. By that time, the founders had already left the country.

Uncovering the second part of the Ringelblum Archive in the ruins of the former Warsaw ghetto in 1950 helped the institute recover from its difficulties. In that year, it started publishing its Polish-language journal, Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, which appeared semiannually until 1957 and quarterly thereafter. The Biuletyn and Bleter far geshikhte were devoted mainly to issues concerning the Holocaust—a noteworthy phenomenon, since talking about the specific fate of Jews under the Nazis was discouraged throughout the Soviet Bloc. The journals occasionally published articles about earlier periods in Polish Jewish history as well.

In 1949, Ber (Bernard) Mark, a veteran Jewish Communist, became director of ŻIH; he retained this post until his death in 1966. Mark tried not to antagonize the authorities, and to the extent possible he continued the institute’s program of research. Under his direction, ŻIH became a state institution, financed by the Ministry of Education until 1952 and subsequently by the Polish Academy of Sciences. During his tenure, both the Biuletyn and Bleter far geshikhte published important studies by Artur Eisenbach, Tatiana Berenstein, Adam Rutkowski, Szymon Datner, Danuta Dąbrowska, Ruta Sakowska, and others; these reports help lay the foundations for research about the history of the Holocaust on Polish soil. The institute also published Eisenbach’s pioneering book on Nazi policy toward Polish Jews, emphasizing the economic aspects of mass murder and the role of the German army in the Jews’ destruction.

The official anti-Jewish campaign that began in March 1968 endangered the institute’s existence. ŻIH managed to survive, but it functioned in a state of ongoing crisis until the mid-1990s. Several of its leading scholars, including Berenstein, Rutkowski, and Shmuel Krakowski, left the country in 1968, leaving only a small group of Holocaust historians (led by Eisenbach, Sakowska, and Datner) and scholars of other periods (including Maurycy Horn and Marian Fuks).

Recovery started in 1994 when support for ŻIH was assumed by the Ministry of Culture. The ministry provided a modest but stable budget that covered most basic needs. In 1996–1999, the facilities were renovated and modernized, with financial assistance from several foreign foundations. The staff also grew, reaching 65 employees in 2005. The institute was organized into three departments for collections (archives, library, and museum), two research departments, and an educational desk, which works mostly with high school teachers.

Currently, ŻIH publishes about five books a year, as well as the Biuletyn, which was renamed Kwartalnik historii Żydow (Jewish History Quarterly) in 2001. In 1997, the institute began publishing a scholarly edition of the complete Ringelblum archive (5 volumes had appeared by 2006), as well as a series of Holocaust memoirs and diaries (18 volumes as of the same date). Publications also include a series of annotated archival catalogs, some of them in bilingual (Polish and English) editions.

The institute displays two permanent exhibitions (The Warsaw Ghetto and the Gallery of Jewish Art), attracting about 20,000 visitors a year. Since 2002, a series of public lectures about Jewish topics, aimed at a broad audience, has been offered under the name Open University. The Lauder Foundation operates a genealogy program, and the California-based Taube Foundation supports some of its cultural programs. Certain projects are carried out in active cooperation with Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. An increasing number of scholars from many countries consult its archival and library collections.

Directors of the Institute have included Nachman Blumental (1947–1948), Ber Mark (1949–1966), Artur Eisenbach (1966–1968), Szymon Datner (1969–1970), Marian Fuks (1968–1969; 1971–1973), Maurycy Horn (1973–1985; 1987–1990), Daniel Grinberg (1990–1995), Feliks Tych (1996–2007), and Eleonora Bergman (2007– ).

Suggested Reading

Eleonora Bergman, ed., Jewish Historical Institute: The First Fifty Years, 1947–1997; Conference Papers, trans. Robert L. Kirkland, III (Warsaw, 1996); Trzydzieści pięc lat działalności Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Polsce Ludowej (Warsaw, 1980), summaries in Yiddish and English.