International Conference "From Shtetl to Post – Jewish Town" – call for papers

Po brukowanej ulicy jakiegoś miasteczka spaceruje kilka osób. English description: A few people are walking along the cobbled street of a town.
Fot. Zbiory Instytutu Sztuki PAN / phot. Collections of the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences

The conference will explore how shtetls like Opatów became post-Jewish towns and how their Jewish communities are remembered by those who once lived there and by those who live there today.

  • September 8–10, 2024 (Sunday – Tuesday), POLIN Museum
  • Call for papers is now closed
  • More information: [email protected]

While the historical shtetl has been studied extensively, the post-Jewish town, as a historical phenomenon and evolving site of contested memory, has received less attention. After the Holocaust, the many towns where Jewish communities had lived for centuries and where they had created a distinctive way of life became places without Jews. We want to explore this process of transforming shtetls into post-Jewish space.

The conference is organized as part of the events accompanying the new temporary exhibition of POLIN Museum "(post)JEWISH… Shtetl Opatów Through the Eyes of Mayer Kirshenblatt" that will open on May 17, 2024. The exhibition will juxtapose postwar memories of prewar Jewish life in Polish Opatów, as recorded in words and paintings by a self-taught artist – Mayer Kirshenblatt, with the postwar post-Jewish town.


Scholars at all stages of their careers and in all disciplines, museum and heritage specialists, and local historians and practitioners are invited to submit paper proposals within the following thematic areas:

  • How the shtetl was perceived by insiders and outsiders, Jewish and non-Jewish and how it was studied in situ in real-time and at a distance after the Holocaust
  • New approaches to the historical shtetl (culture, politics, economics, and social life) and its definition (how to define a shtetl? Is there a definition?)
  • The shtetl and post-Jewish town as sites of contested memory
  • Living with the knowledge of how the town became "post-Jewish," relation of locals today to descendants of Jews who once lived there and to towns’ Jewish legacy, the fate of Jewish property
  • Forensic turn as a way to examine traces and legacy of former shtetls

Case studies are welcome. While the exhibition "(post)JEWISH… Shtetl Opatów Through the Eyes of Mayer Kirshenblatt" focuses on Poland, the shtetl and post-Jewish town are a wider phenomenon. Consideration of these themes in other parts of Eastern Europe, including but not limited to Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, is welcome.

Presentations should last no longer than 20 minutes.

The organizers will reimburse speakers for travel expenses to and from Warsaw (economy class tickets) and provide accommodation during the conference.

The organizers reserve the right to publish conference materials.

Steering committee

  • David Assaf (Tel Aviv University)
  • Aleksandra Jakubczak (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews/Harvard University)
  • Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews)
  • Antony Polonsky (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews)
  • Natalia Romik (The Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah)
  • Jeffrey Shandler (Rutgers University)
  • Magdalena Waligórska (Humboldt University in Berlin)

Logos of GEOP, Taube Philantrophies, William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, POLIN Museum, Humboldt University in Berlin, Tel Aviv University and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research