Seminar schedule 2019/2020

Twentieth Century Polish History Seminar

Convenors: Prof. Michael Fleming and Dr Wojciech Rappak

The seminar series on twentieth century Polish history was initiated at PUNO in 2013. It provides a forum for scholars and the wider public to engage with new historical scholarship. Scholars from a range of British and Polish universities have presented research in progress and discussed their recent publications. Details of previous seminars can be found at

The seminar is open to the public and is especially useful for students reading MA or PhD degrees in history or cognate disciplines. The seminar is conducted in English. The seminar takes place at the Polish University Abroad, POSK building, 3rd Floor, 238-246 King Street, London W6 0RF, starting at 18.15. Those wishing to participate should contact PUNO or the convenor prior to each seminar as places are strictly limited. Email: or


Programme for the 2019/2020 academic year

23 October 2019         Professor Marek Wierzbicki

Why did youth rebel again in Cold War Europe? (1980-1989)?


This talk seeks to explain why the youth upheavals of the 1980s were not as widespread or as memorable as the students’ strikes and demonstrations of 1968. It assesses the role of youth in bringing communist rule and the Cold War to an end in East-Central Europe in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991, and considers the consequences of the collapse of the communist system for youth in Europe. The talk reflects on the wave of youth riots, civic unrest and disobedience that took place in the 1980s in West Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and the USSR. Youth separateness from ‘the adult world’ manifested itself through the contestation of political realities and through young people pursuing their own ideals in contrast to the dominant cultures of the epoch. These attitudes were expressed through forming peace, ecological and identity social movements, joining opposition activities in the field of politics, creating various subcultures (countercultures) including those based on punk rock music and fostering values that belonged to mass youth culture. Youth had a significant impact on the existing reality. The common ground for young people was a rejection of the dominant norms and rules of a society.


Marek Wierzbicki is a professor of contemporary history and social science at the Institute of Political Science and International Affairs at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin and a researcher at the Institute of National Remembrance in Lublin. He has published monographs on a history of the Soviet occupation of II Republic of Poland as well as Polish youth under communist rule. His current research is concerning a comparative and transnational history of youth in the East and West of Europe in  the last decade of the Cold War. 



27 November 2019     Dr Paul Latawski ((Royal Military Academy Sandhurst)

Seeds of Disaster:  Polish Army Leadership and Preparation for War  

The seminar presentation will focus on the selection and career development of the higher and formation commanders who occupied the senior posts in the September 1939 campaign.  It will examine the long shadow cast by the policies of Marshal Józef Piłsudski in the selection of senior commanders and in their military education and training. The preference in promotion given to officers of Legionary background to higher and formation command led to a two tier Army.  Non-legionary officers whose promotion had been stifled generally possessed a more conventional military background while officers of Legionary background were grounded in a paramilitary legacy. The net result of these policies was to lead to the ‘military amateurization’ of higher command as a result of senior officer development inadequate preparation for modern war. Although the promotion of non-Legionary officers to higher command increased after the death of Piłsudski, Poland went to war with a senior military leadership ill-prepared for its challenges.  



18 December 2019      Dr Katarzyna Person (Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw)

The Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto as a source for the study of daily life in the ghettos during the Holocaust.


The Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, known as the Ringelblum Archive but especially under its code name Oneg Shabbat / Oyneg Shabbes – is the most important collection of testimonies of life and death of Jews in the Nazi occupied Poland during the Second World War. It was conceived and organized by a distinguished Polish-Jewish historian Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum; among his collaborators, approximately 50-60 people, were journalists, economists, teachers, rabbis, writers. Only three of the group survived. In 1999 the collection was included in the UNESCO register Memory of the World

The Archive was retrieved in parts from the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto: Part I (concealed on August 3, 1942) was found on September 18, 1946 and Part II (concealed in early February 1943) was found on December 1, 1950. Part I counts over 25,000 and Part II close to 10,000 pages. There are diaries, accounts from approximately 300 Jewish communities from all the territory of the occupied Poland, school essays, research works – and also official German documents: posters, identification cards, food ration cards. There is also some 70 photographs and over 300 drawings and paintings.

In my lecture I will speak of the significance of this collection for research on the Holocaust, in particular daily life of people incarcerated in the ghettos in occupied Poland.


Katarzyna Person is an assistant professor in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, specializing in Eastern European Jewish History. She has published over 20 peer-reviewed articles and 3 books dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath in occupied Poland.



15 January 2020         Roundtable Discussion

                                    Memory, historical policy and identity




26 February 2020        Dr Ursula Philips, (SSEES, London)

                                    Literature in Interwar Poland (1919-1939)

The lecture will try to identify aspects of Polish literary history that fit most appropriately into this chronological framework, while acknowledging that boundaries defined by political events are not always satisfactory when describing developments in culture; many prominent writers of the 1920s and 1930s were born in the 19th century and were already writing before 1918, whilst some of the 20th century’s literary giants, who later wrote in exile, such as Witold Gombrowicz and Czesław Miłosz, made their debuts in the 1930s. Independence meant that institutions promoting literature and supported by the state functioned for the first time since before the partitions. Literary journals flourished. The theme of the new state itself will be discussed with reference to literary portrayals, for example in Stefan Żeromski’s The Coming Spring (1924) and Zofia Nałkowska’s The Romance of Teresa Hennert (1924) and Boundary (1936). At the same time, the period saw a distinct movement away from exclusive national themes in favour of 1) aesthetics and innovation (notably in poetry) and 2) greater psychological realism (in prose), and hence universalism. The period was marked by the enhanced visibility of women writers. Two further important individual contributions will be mentioned: the dramas of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and the short stories of Bruno Schulz. Jewish writers, writing mostly in Polish, will be included. Wherever possible, the focus will be on texts available in English translation.


Ursula Phillips is Honorary Research Associate of the University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies, a writer on Polish literary history and translator of Polish literary and academic works. She received the Found in Translation Award 2015 for her translation of Zofia Nałkowska’s 1927 novel Choucas and the PIASA (Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America) Wacław Lednicki Award 2017 for her translation of Nałkowska’s Boundary (1935). Recent academic translations include Jarosław Czubaty, The Duchy of Warsaw: A Napoleonic Outpost in Central Europe (2016) and Grzegorz Niziołek, The Polish Theatre of the Holocaust (2019).