Jackie Jakubowski (1951 – 2020)

Grupa ludzi na świeżym powietrzu stroi za barierkami. Od lewej: M. Prochwicz, M. Bron, J. Jakubowski i G. Gauden na Wielkim Otwarciu Muzeum POLIN
Od lewej: M. Prochwicz, M. Bron, J. Jakubowski i G. Gauden na Wielkim Otwarciu Muzeum POLIN, fot. Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

We were deeply saddened to hear that, after a long illness, Jackie Jakubowski passed away on 25 May 2020 in Stockholm. He was only 68.

"I am 100% Pole, 100% Jew, 100% Swede, and 100% a father".
(quote from an interview that K. Andersz conducted with Mr Jakubowski "Krótka opowieść o stuprocentowym Polaku", Chidusz, kwiecień 2018)

Jackie Jakubowski was a well-known Swedish journalist and writer. In the years 1980-2015, he was editor-in-chief of "Judisk kronika", one of the oldest Swedish magazines devoted to culture. In the years 2004-2015, he was the chair of the Stockholm branch of the Friends of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, often referred to as the Swedish Committee.

He was granted the title of Journalist of the Year 2000, an Honorary Doctorate of the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. Inviting Jackie Jakubowski by the SR public Swedish radio to do an original radio show was a token of great appreciation for his work.

Jackie Jakubowski was born on 5 October 1951 in Szczecin. He lived in Katowice with his father until 1970. His youthful dreams of becoming an actor never came true. Already in Göteborg, where he emigrated in the aftermath of the antisemitic purge in Poland, he enrolled to the University of Technology, fulfilling the promise he had made to his dying father that he would gain a solid profession. As he used to say himself, he did not work one day as an engineer. 

Jakubowski was the second editor-in-chief of "Judisk kronika"; he succeeded in creating a magazine which grew to be a vital forum for tackling social issues and which enjoyed great popularity, also among the non-Jewish readers. His texts, published in, among others, "Dagens Nyheter" daily, were an important voice in the debate on minority rights. He was one of the people whose activism led to a trial and ultimately a sentence for a Holocaust denier widely known for notorious hate speech. 

Jackie’s Jewish, Polish and Polish-Jewish identity meant that he was very interested in the 1989 political transformation in Poland. He noted with great curiosity and amazement that Polish bookstores were suddenly full of books by Jewish authors or on Jewish subjects, that seminars and festivals of Jewish culture were being organized in towns both big and small, that Warsaw Jewish Book Days were being held, "Midrasz" was being published, and Jewish religious communities all across Poland were being revived. With time, he and his family became regular guests at the Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków, Lublin and Katowice. However, one of his most important journeys was to Sompolno, the town his father’s family hailed from.

Jackie Jakubowski was keen on a project to create a museum in Poland dedicated to the heritage of Polish Jews from the very beginning. He was quite prominent within the milieu of March ’68 emigrants and among the Polonia in Sweden. It seemed obvious that he should become a chair of the Swedish Society supporting the Museum, the post he held from 2004 till 2015. Jackie was most interested in sharing knowledge on the history and culture of Polish Jews, but also in the question of dialogue. He always pointed out the usage of the phrase “Polish concentration camps” and duly corrected it every single time. He also eagerly commented on what he referred to an unjust criticism of Poland. He could not grasp how it is possible that nationalistic and antisemitic slogans are commonplace in the country where such a great Museum is being built, along with new Judaic studies departments and festivals of Jewish culture. 

He was one of the signatories of the foundation act for the construction of the Museum in 2007, as well as a head of the delegation of the Swedish Committee during the Museum opening in 2013, at the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and at the grand opening of the core exhibition in 2014. A year later, he shared our joy at the opening of the King Matt’s Family Education Area, a project that was initiated and sponsored by no other than the Swedish Committee.

Jackie Jakubowski’s authority played a major role in POLIN Museum establishing contacts with the leading Swedish cultural and educational institutions, such as: Forum för levande historia (Forum for the Living History), Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism (SKMA), the Jewish Council and the Jewish Museum. That is how more and more events dedicated to the Museum under construction were being held in Stockholm, with the participation of, i.a. Prof. W. Bartoszewski, M. Turski, Prof. B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, K. Gebert, or R. Mahlamäki. Jackie focused on the issue of dialogue, that is why we discussed the Shoah, the book titled Neighbors, March ’68, antisemitism in Poland, Irena Sendler and the Righteous Among the Nations. One such meeting held in December 2019 turned out to be Jackie’s last - Maciej Zaremba in conversation with Grzegorz Gauden revolving around his book titled "Lwów – kres iluzji. Opowieść o pogromie listopadowym 1918". 

Traumatic departure from Poland deprived Jackie of his mother tongue. He returned to it while working for the Society and for the Museum devoted to the heritage of Polish Jews - working for our joint home, as Marian Turski once said.

Living through the Shoah left its mark on the postwar lives of Jackie’s family. His mother and twin sister emigrated to Israel in 1956. He saw them again only as an adult. The history has made a circle - they were not able to say goodbye to him now. Jackie is survived by wife, daughter, son and numerous friends. The funeral took place on 28 May in Stockholm at the Norra judiska begravningsplatsen cemetery.

We have been through a great life adventure with Jackie, working hand in hand to establish POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and to preserve the memory we all share...

Friends of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews – Swedish Committee for Support of POLIN Museum