Courses

Exile under Nazism and Communism01:563:270
(cross-listed with 01:510:263)

This course will examine the experience of several minority groups in Poland: Jews, Ukrainians, and ethnic Polish peasants under Nazi and Communist rule in the modern period through primary historical documents, memoir literature, poetry, and film. These populations were part of a historically rich multicultural, multifaith, and multilinguistic region that was homogenized in the 20th century due to war, genocide, political nationalism, and population transfers. 

In order to understand the complexity of Nazi and Soviet control over Polish territory in the 20th century, and the experiences of Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians—including their sense of belonging, their reactions to dislocations, and the memory of their extermination—this course will introduce students to the history of Poland, beginning in its “Golden Age,” which saw the expansion of Jewish settlement throughout the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—which included Ukrainian lands—and continuing to the effects of the partitions in the late eighteenth century, in which Poland and its peoples became subjects of the Russian, Habsburg, and Austrian Empires. In the “long” nineteenth century, the “national” principle prevailed in East Central Europe, affecting Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish national aspirations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The course will investigate the dislocations caused by World War I, the exhilaration of the reestablishment of Polish statehood in the interwar period, and then focus on the catastrophic invasion and occupation of western Poland by the Nazi Third Reich in 1939 (and then of Soviet-occupied eastern Poland in 1941), and the subsuming of Polish sovereignty under Communism in 1946. 

Jews lived in Polish lands for a millennium and by the eighteenth century comprised 10% of Poland’s urban population. However, the almost total destruction of Polish Jewry in World War II made the Jews a ‘phantom limb,’ a shadowy non-presence, in the post-war period. Post-war Poles and Ukrainians also experienced devastating dislocations due to the war and to the Communist takeover. All three peoples have produced a wealth of memoir literature and fiction that explores the meanings of home, exile, longing, and the human need for connection to place that is shared, in this case study, by Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians. The paradox of this literature is that these nations appear unaware of the similar themes that their memoirs employ and evoke. 

Students are required to read the materials in advance of our sessions. We will pay careful attention to the primary sources—all of which are available on Canvas—in class. Additional readings, in the form of articles and book chapters, have also been uploaded on Canvas. The secondary sources will allow you to a) deepen your understanding of the history we’re engaging and b) enter into the contemporary scholarly conversation about the meaning of that history. Films, a bi-lingual reading by a Polish poet exiled in 1969, and two guest lectures (one on Nazi architecture, the second on an Israeli graphic novelist’s exploration of the memory of Poland) will enhance students’ understanding of the intertwined histories of the assault on minority groups in the Polish borderlands under the Nazis and the Soviets. 

This course fulfills Core requirement HST-1.


Fall 2022 taught by Prof. Nancy Sinkoff face-to-face.

Tuesdays and Thursdays @ 3:50 PM - 5:10 PM

Have questions? You can email Prof. Nancy Sinkoff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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