In the twenty-five years since its first appearance in 1986, POLIN has established itself as the leading journal in the field of Polish-Jewish Studies. It has become one of the most authoritative sources for those seeking information in English on what was, by the middle of the eighteenth century, the largest Jewish community in the world, a community which in 1939 was still the second largest in the world after that of the United States and a major source of Jewish creativity.
When POLIN was established, Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote,
‘The history of Polish-Jewish relations is of cardinal importance in the history of the Jews since the late Middle Ages and scarcely less so in the history of Poland in more modern times. The story is often painful, at all times complex, and at times of high achievement; and it deserves the kind of objective and illuminating treatment that I am sure [POLIN] will provide.’
His views were seconded by Leszek Kołakowski. In his opinion,
‘Nobody can doubt that systematic study of Polish-Jewish history is of the highest scholarly interest...POLIN , having many prominent Polish and Jewish scholars among its contributors, will be able to inject a new life into these studies. All scholars in the humanities will certainly hail it as a most welcome event.’
POLIN has more than fulfilled the high expectations with which it was launched. Describing the first volume, Lionel Kochan wrote in British Book News,
‘The tone is scholarly and academic without being detached and this creates a perceptible tension, inseparable from the delicate subject of relations between Poles and Jews. The academic auspices and qualifications of the contributors, who hail from three continents are impeccable...No comparable journal exists and POLIN is to be emphatically recommended to all students of Polish and Jewish history.’
In the view of Zygmunt Bauman in the Jewish Quarterly, POLIN is
‘perhaps the only scholarly publication devoted entirely to Polish-Jewish history. Readers are struck by the sheer weight of scholarship and by the quality of historical research represented...they will be struck even more by the freshness of approach many of the authors apply. It is already becoming and fast, a weighty, ineradicable presence in the continuing Polish-Jewish history, as well as in the on-going social-scientific effort to comprehend the changing world in which we live.’
According to Eugene Kusieliewicz, writing in the Polish-American Journal,
‘It was therefore with a great deal of satisfaction that I read POLIN...The articles and reviews were remarkably objective...perhaps the most valuable source book on Polish-Jewish relations...comes closer to objectivity than any similar work I have read... I sincerely recommend it to all interested in the history of Poland.’
The impact of the journal has been particularly significant in Poland. According to Wojciech Wrzesiłski in Odra.
‘The two published volumes of the yearbook and the three which have already been planned are proof that there has now been established a proper forum for the exchange of ideas on Polish-Jewish matters, which is vital to deepen our understanding of these problems, which have often been obscured by misunderstandings, myths and falsifications... The emergence of the yearbook POLIN creates the chance to conduct genuine discussion on the most difficult Polish-Jewish problems and to initiate and develop scholarly investigation of these problems...Reading POLIN , one becomes aware how much is being done in the world to explain the history of the Jews and to examine it in a more rational manner. It also shows how necessary is discussion of this type on an international plane and how dangerous to scholarly understanding are all prejudices which derive from a chauvinistic basis.’
A similar view was expressed by the Polish historian, Michał Horoszewicz. Writing in Maqom, the journal of the Institute for Dialogue between Catholicism and Judaism of the Catholic Theological Academy in Warsaw, he observed:
A reading of the first seven volumes of POLIN is as a rule absorbing, always illuminating, sometimes controversial; it often becomes painful; it reveals the world of a time gone without the possibility of return - the world of a Poland pluralistic ethnically, culturally and religiously.
The relaunch of the yearbook under the aegis of the Littman Library has been a great success. The higher standards of copy-editing, the provision of a more extensive scholarly apparatus, including an index and glossary, and the much improved design of the books and jackets have all enhanced the impact of the series. This has also been reflected in reviews. Discussing the volume, From Shtetl to Socialism, Alexander Zveilli, wrote in the Jerusalem Post Magazine:
Antony Polonsky’s monumental collection of studies covers the 10 centuries of Jewish life in Poland. Many of the essays, written by acknowledged scholars, have appeared in POLIN and other historical publications. The present volume presents them in chronological order.
The spectrum of subjects is broad and goes back to the history of the first Jewish settlement in Poland. Special attention is paid to pre-partition Poland and the Jewish problems in the 19th century and between the two world wars. The seven essays on World War II and the postwar period hardly do justice to this crucial time in Jewish history. The notes on the contributors, chronological tables, maps, glossary and index will be of great assistance to readers. One can only express admiration for the editor and the institutions concerned for this effort to enlighten us and future generations about some aspects of Jewish existence in a land where, practically speaking, Jews live no more.
Of volume 8, Abraham Brumberg, in the Times Literary Supplement, commented:
Jews in Independent Poland, 1918-1939 is the latest result of the prodigious efforts by Antony Polonsky, now of Brandeis University, to promote the study of Jewish life in Poland, and of Polish-Jewish relations through the centuries. Edited jointly with Ezra Mendelsohn of the Hebrew University and Jerzy Tomaszewski of Warsaw University, it also constitutes Volume 8 of the yearbook POLIN, which Polonsky edits. The volume contains too many riches for a brief review to do them justice. A few essays, however, deserve special mention: ‘The Social Consciousness of Young Jews in Interwar Poland’, by the young Polish historian Alina Cała; two sociological studies of Jewish workers and artisans, by B. Gancarska-Kadary and Zbigniew Landau respectively; and ‘The Polish Kehillah Elections of 1936: A revolution re-examined’, by Robert Moses Shapiro. The last analyses the final elections to the local Jewish bodies, which marked the dramatic increase in the popularity of the Jewish socialist Bund - a popularity confirmed two years later in the elections to the municipal elections.
In the opinion of Irving Louis Horowitz, the eminent sociologist at Rutgers University, ‘POLIN, in its nine volumes, has performed an extraordinary act of memory retrieval in its own right.’ Gazeta Wyborcza, perhaps the leading daily paper in Poland, wrote on 28 November 1997, on the occasion of the launch of volume 10 in the Polish Embassy in London:
The yearbook POLIN, whose tenth volume has just appeared is, despite its small circulation, the most important academic publication in the world on the history of the Jews in Poland. The yearbook was created and has been edited from its inception by Professor Antony Polonsky, born in South Africa of a family of Lithuanian Jews. Published in English in Oxford, POLIN has among its contributors Jewish and Polish historians from the respective diasporas, Poland and Israel. Each volume includes reports on the state of scholarship, documents, reviews and polemical exchanges. These last, in particular, have laid down the standards for civilized debate on the complicated history of the Jews in Poland.
This view is echoed by Professor Stanislaus Blejwas, Coordinator of Polish Studies
at Central Connecticut State University. Writing is Shofar, he observed:
POLIN offers the latest and best scholarship on Polish Jewry, and a short review can only signal POLIN’s breadth and richness. The tenth volume is an occasion to congratulate and to thank the patrons and the editor for their efforts to recover the rich history of a community that is so tragically only an image before our eyes, and to note the importance of this English-language annual for scholars and students not only of Polish Jewry, but also for East European and Jewish specialists.
In a recent review in the Zeitschrift fuer Ostmitteleuropa Forschung, the yearbook was described as ‘the most important forum in print for the discussion of the history of Polish-Jewish relations’.
POLIN won the Ronald S. Lauder Award in East European Studies at the Fiftieth Annual Award Ceremony of the Jewish Book Council in March 2000. The citation read:
This year’s award is honoring POLIN, a journal of studies in Polish Jewry which published its twelfth volume. Since its inception in 1986 the journal has offered a forum for outstanding scholarship drawn from many disciplines. By publishing contributions from many countries, it opened a dialogue in a field where scholars found it difficult to communicate across national boundaries. It left no subject untouched, and gives on its pages an encyclopedic overview of one thousand years of history of Polish Jewry.
In 2008, the editors of volume 19 were the recipients of the Oskar Halecki Prize of the Polish American Historical Association (PAHA), an award designed to recognize an important academic work that has contributed to understanding the Polish experience in the United States.
According to a recent study by Łukasz Jasina, in his Poles and Jews During World War in Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, commissioned by the Polish Foreign Ministry:
Polin demonstrates that a dialogue, which has been going on for nearly twenty years in circles striving to achieve a rational discussion of common history devoid of political contexts is possible.A more careful analysis of the issues taken up by ‘Polin’ shows that, in effect, no subjects were regarded as taboo by its editors and contributors. The authors wrote about past facts which are beyond change. What is significant is the fact that this past turned out to be multi-dimensional and fairly capacious, including both evil and goodness, traditions of a common community life and creation of culture, as well as programmes and ordinary crimes.
Reading Polin leads to another, at the same time, most important conclusion. Understanding and building of a future based on truth is possible only when the discussion is being conducted by specialists and supplants any chaotic and half amateurish quarrels of politicians and ‘defenders’ of undermined authorities. Common Polish-Jewish history is able to defend itself on the basis of its achievements and, to this day after sixty years since the Holocaust, detectable, material and spiritual relics. Thus, the future of any Polish-Jewish dialogue should take the form of arduous academic research based on honest foundations and not just any interpretations of the past lacking deep insight.