Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie


Current Projects

Polish Folk Art and the Holocaust: Perpetrator-Victim-Bystander Memory Transactions in the Polish-German Context (financed by the DFG & NCN Beethoven Programme, 2020-2024)

Holocaust-themed folk art from Poland constitutes an important and as-yet-unexamined source that offers a unique perspective on the “dispersed” Holocaust that took place outside of the death camps, in full view of local “bystander” populations Created throughout the postwar decades, carvings and paintings of Holocaust scenes by Polish vernacular artists, who remembered pre-war Jews and witnessed the atrocities against them, have been largely forgotten in the holdings of Polish ethnographic museums or reside in private (mostly German) collections, without ever having been systematically examined as a source of knowledge about post-traumatic memory processes.

This project, funded by the DFG and NCN’s joint initiative “Beethoven,” focuses on such vernacular representations of the Shoah, and their impacts and instrumentalizations in East, West, and reunited Germany from 1945 until today, examining their role in Polish and German memory cultures. The study seeks, further, to determine to what extent German collectors stimulated memory of the Holocaust among Polish artists, and whether Germany’s “orientalist” gaze on Poland influenced the way this art was produced and received in the German states. Finally, the project will yield insights into the ways that Poles and Germans have negotiated their respective collective statuses as victim, witness, and perpetrator.

The project is carried out jointly with Roma Sendyka (Jagiellonian University in Kraków) and Erica Lehrer (Concordia University Montreal).



Mapping the Archipelago of Lost Towns: Post-Holocaust Urban Lacunae in the Polish-Belarusian-Ukrainian Borderlands (financed by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, 2020-2023)

While urban centers across East-Central Europe suffered unprecedented damage and population losses during WWII, with some of them entirely wiped out and many others depopulated, it was the archipelago of smaller towns often with a substantial Jewish majority—the shtelts—that faced a complete demise. This project, funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, looks at the long-term consequences of systematic population exchange at the epicenter of the so-called “Holocaust by bullets,” in the “lost towns” of the Polish-Belarusian-Ukrainian borderlands. It examines both the strategies of obliterating or adopting (and adapting) “disinherited heritage” after 1945, applying both historical and anthropological methods. In focus are three interrelated phenomena of: overwriting, “displaced memories,” and the revival of Jewish heritage after 1989/1991. By mapping the fate of “lost towns” across state borders, the project offers a contribution to our understanding of not only the economic, social and cultural ramifications of the process of appropriation and repopulation of vacated spaces, but also of space-related practices of remembering and forgetting.

Project Team:

Dr. Ina Sorkina

Dr. Alexander Friedman

Dr. Marta Duch-Dyngosz

More on our project on Jewish Heritage Europe: “In Search of the Lost Shtetl