Modern Genealogy of Polish Jews
Dr. Kamila Klauzińska
It is hard to imagine the history of Poland without the many historical and intellectual contributions of Polish Jews. Genealogy and lineage has always been valued in Judaism, from the Old Testament until modern times, and the study of Jewish culture, religion and history has intimate relations with Jewish genealogy even if this is not always apparent. This aspect has taken a deep significance since World War II, for obvious reasons. Jewish studies are now in rapid development in academia in Poland but so far without the Jewish genealogy facet.
The analysis of the fast development of modern Jewish genealogy is the central theme of Klauzinska’s dissertation. Klauzinska points out that the study of the genealogy of the Jews illuminates the raison d’etre of a number of fields, including collective memory (for example, the ‘local-collective’ memory of Polish shtetls), the generation of post-memory, Polish-Jewish relations, Hasidism, conversions, and even the rabbinate institution. Referring to the rapid growth of Jewish genealogy, the Polish historian Rafal Zebrowski writes: „The professional historian should follow these phenomena as they provide a new impulse for Jewish studies in our country and over the world”.
Klauzinska’s dissertation has the structure of a monograph and is divided in three parts. In the first part Klauzinska outlines the meaning of Jewish genealogy in Jewish tradition: She describes the issue of biblical and rabbinical genealogy, and also discusses the role of women in Jewish genealogies.
In the second part the author describes the most common genealogical sources used in modern investigations. These include the Register Books, the Books of Permanent Residents, and Jewish cemeteries. The Register Books are described on the basis of the codification of laws that existed in the Duchy of Warsaw, the Polish Kingdom, Galicia and the Prussian partition. The Books of Permanent Residents are presented on the basis of the administrative law of the Polish Kingdom.
She also describes genealogy traditions in the years that precede World War II. This description relies on family artifacts, and genealogical notes and written documents obtained during her research.
The Holocaust led to a radical transformation: genealogy became taboo to the Jewish people, and as a whole, genealogical research was abandoned. It took about 30 years, thus until the mid-1970s, until Jewish genealogy was significantly reactivated. This signified a new beginning, the arising of modern genealogy.
In the third part of the dissertation, the author describes the most significant characteristics of modern genealogy: democratization and institutionalization. She proposes methods to analyze the recent appearance of the Jewish genealogy community, and describes some key aspects of the issue: the fathers and pioneers, the leaders of JRI-Poland, family genealogists, virtual organizations on the internet, including JewishGen and Jewish Records Indexing (JRI)-Poland. In 2006 a new academic institution, the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy (IIJG), was launched in Jerusalem, Israel. These new genealogical societies and organizations played a pivoting role in the Jewish genealogy community, as well as in family and community reconstruction and in landsmanshaft revitalization.
Using examples from the literature, the author distinguishes between micro-genealogy (essentially, the study of genealogy of individual families) and macro-genealogy (the use of modern tools and methodologies to study the genealogy of entire communities). Klauzinska conducted her investigations in the various archives of Poland, as well as at the YIVO Institute in New York, and in an extensive collection in the Library of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She also conducted farreaching genealogical investigations of individual Jewish families. Klauzinska designed a unique questionnaire for Jewish genealogists, which was sent to Jewish genealogists over the world, and 107 of these were returned with full answers. The questionnaire forms the basis of the third part of her dissertation.
Click here for the Final Report on this project.