Video: In the Wake of Catastrophe: Jewish Refugees and the Reconstruction of Jewish Life after Chmielnicki uprising 1648

fot. Alicja Szulc

Prof. Adam Teller, historian from Brown University in the USA, will answer the question how Polish-Lithuanian Jewry succeeded in overcoming so quickly the terrible devastation of the mid-seventeenth century uprising. The unique roof and vault of the wooden synagogue in Gwoźdźiec reconstructed at the POLIN Museum will serve as an inspiration.

  • 21 October (Monday), 6PM

In his study of the Gwoździec wooden synagogue, Thomas Hubka asks how it was possible for the Jews of Ukraine, whose world had only recently been destroyed in the Chmielnicki uprising, to create such a complex and beautiful cultural monument.

This lecture answers that question by examining how Polish-Lithuanian Jewry succeeded in overcoming so quickly the terrible devastation of the mid-seventeenth century uprising. It first traces the fate of the Jewish refugees forced to flee by the fighting. It begins with the refugee experience itself, examining not only its social and economic effects, but its psychological consequences, too. Its next stage is to see how Polish-Jewish society, both the local communities and the Sejm Żydowski, organized in order to provide the refugees with the necessities of life they needed in order to survive the crisis.

Finally, the lecture focuses on the process of returning home and reconstructing Jewish life amid all the destruction. As becomes clear, Polish Jewry developed its own means of overcoming not just the material losses of the wars but also the traumas suffered by the survivors. It was its success in doing that that put Polish Jewish society in a position to begin a period of rapid growth and socio-cultural development in the post-war years.

Lecture in English with simultaneous Polish translation.

Adam Teller is Professor of History and Judaic Studies at Brown University in the USA. He has written widely on the economic, social, and cultural history of the Jews in early modern Poland-Lithuania. His first book, Living Together: The Jewish Quarter in Poznań during the Seventeenth Century was published in Hebrew by the Magnes Press of the Hebrew University in 2003. His latest book, Money, Power, and Influence in Eighteenth Century Lithuania: The Jews on the Radziwiłł Estates was published by Stanford University Press in 2016. He is associate editor of the journal Gal-Ed: On the History and Culture of Polish Jewry in Tel Aviv and on the editorial board of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, published in the UK. He was a member of the core academic team that created the exhibit at the POLIN Museum for the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and is currently a member of the museum’s Academic Council. His new book, Ransom and Relief: The Great Jewish Refugee Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, which deals with the waves of Polish Jewish refugees that spread out across Europe, Asia, and North Africa following the Khmelnytsky uprising of 1648, will be published by Princeton University Press in the spring of 2020.


The lecture is organized within the Global Education Outreach Program.

This lecture was made possible thanks to Taube Philanthropies, the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland.

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