Anniversaries & holidays

Anniversary of granting Nobel Prizes to Polish Jews

In December, we celebrate anniversary of granting Nobel Prizes to distinguished figures from within the community of Polish Jews. The recently opened Legacy gallery at POLIN Museum presents the life and work of three of the laureates. 

55 years ago, the Nobel Prize for Literature was handed out to Shmuel Yosef Agnon who’s until today considered one of the most important Jewish writers of the first half of the 20th century.

Born in Buczacz, Agnon began to write in his early childhood. With time, he entered into cooperation with the Jewish press in Kraków where his good command of both Yiddish and Hebrew was recognised. Agnon is the author of four novels written in Hebrew and numerous poems and short literary pieces. In 1908 he left for Palestine, but his oeuvre remained permeated with motifs related to his childhood in Buczacz—images of a shtetl and praise of East European Jews’ religious life. Agnon hadn’t been recognised until the end of his life—first, he was twice awarded the Israeli Prize, and, in 1966, he was granted the Nobel Prize. He passed away in Israel in 1970.

Isaac Bashevis Singer was yet another Jewish author to be honoured with the Nobel Prize for literature. This year, we’re celebrating the 43rd anniversary of this event.

Singer was born to a religious Jewish family in Leoncin, not far from the Kampinos Forest. Being a careful observer, he insightfully portrayed the Jews of eastern Poland—their moral, philosophical and religious dilemmas—in his novels and short stories. Having emigrated to the United States in 1935, where he worked as a journalist, Singer continued to write in Yiddish. In his literary works, he referred various episodes from his biography, and he emphasized his connection to Poland. Many feature films and theatrical plays were based on Singer's works. The writer died in 1991 in Florida.

Józef Rotblat was the laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, handed to him 26 years ago. Born in 1908 in Warsaw, despite numerous obstacles faced by the Jews, he grew to become a scholar distinguished in the field of nuclear physics.

Rotblat left for the United Kingdom shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, and in 1944 he moved to the United States. There, he joined the team working on the clandestine Manhattan project whose aim was to construct an atomic bomb. Rotblat believed that the fact that the Allied Forces possess such a bomb could dissuade the Germans from using it. After atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Rotblat, stricken with remorse, turned into a pacifist who opposed the arms race. In 1995, together with the Pugwash Conference pacifist movement, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Rotblat died in 2005 in London.

You can find out more about the three laureates of the Nobel Prize at POLIN Museum’s Legacy gallery. It presents twenty-six figures from the world of art, literature, music, theatre, film, science and humanities, law, education and politics. They all constitute a collective portrait of Polish Jewry in all its diversity, viewed through the life and work of individuals who are at the same time unique and typical. It is worth getting to know them all, including the three Nobel Prize winners whose achievements we’re celebrating this year.