Seminar schedule 2017/18

Programme for the 2017/2018 academic year


25 October 2017 Zbigniew Siemaszko (Independent scholar)

The attitude of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union to Poles

On Zbigniew Siemaszko’s background and his writing on recent Polish history see here (in Polish)


8 November 2017 Dr Joanna Michlic (UCL)

Book launch: Jewish Families in Europe, 1939-Present: History, Representation, and Memory

More information about a recent book edited by Dr Michlic: here


29 November 2017 John Gallehawk

Enigma, Bletchley Park and the Polish connection

John Gallehawk begins our special series on Bletchley Park, the Enigma machine and the Polish connection.  Gallehawk is a Bletchley Park Researcher and guide.  He is also the author of articles on Bletchley Park and the Enigma machine, published in the Bletchley Park Report.  More here


6 December 2017 Jeremy McCarthy

Marian Rejewski’s Cyklometer and its significance to the Allied war effort:  How Polish mathematicians used mechanical methods to aid the decryption of the Enigma machine messages in the 1930s.

Our series on Bletchley Park, Enigma and the Polish connection continues with Jeremy McCarthy’s talk on Marian Rejewski, one of the Polish mathematicians who deduced the internal wiring of early versions of the Enigma machine used by the Germans in the early 30’s.

More on Jeremy McCarthy’s talk: here

And on the Polish mathematicians: here


9 December 2017 Field trip to Bletchley Park (Guide and commentary provided by John Gallehawk and colleagues)

Our Bletchley Park, Enigma and the Polish connection series ends with a field trip to Bletchley Park.


17 January 2018 Dr Helena Duffy (Royal Holloway)

History and Fiction:  The Ethics of Holocaust Representation in the Postmodern French Novel

The last two decades have seen a proliferation of French Holocaust novels that, additionally, bear the stamp of postmodernism. This means that the works such as Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder (1997), Pierre Assouline’s La Cliente (1998), Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (2006) or Yannick Haenel’s Messenger (2010) programmatically problematize the very possibility of acquiring (historical) knowledge, insist upon the subjective, interpretative and (inter)textual rather than empirical nature of History and favour multiplicity, plurality, fragmentation and indeterminacy. Because many associate postmodern art with the deployment of parodic, fantastic or ludic elements, as well as with the questioning and relativisation of Truth, several of the recent French Holocaust novels have become a source of major controversies, frequently attracting criticism from historians. The aim of this talk is therefore to address the ethics of the figurations of the Shoah, whose uniqueness and sacredness for some precludes any experimental or even aestheticizing approaches to its representation. Illustrated with specific examples, my discussion will be informed by theoretical writings of, among others, Hayden White, Linda Hutcheon, Brian McHale and Dan Stone.

Helena Duffy is a Marie Skłodowska–Curie Research Fellow working on a project concerned with the ethics of Holocaust representations in French historiographic metafiction. Prior to her current appointment at Royal Holloway, University of London, she taught French language and literature at other UK universities (Hull, Oxford Brookes), as well as in France (Université Blaise–Pascal, Clermont–Ferrand), Poland (Uniwersytet Wrocławski) and Australia (University of Queensland, University of New England). Her research interests lie in contemporary French literature and cinema, with a particular focus on non–native authors, postmodernism and cultural figurations of the Holocaust. Helena Duffy is an author of over twenty scholarly articles and a monograph concerned with the portrayal of the Great Fatherland War in the oeuvre of Franco-Russian novelist, Andreï Makine.

Helena Duffy biographical note: here


21 February 2018 Dr Paul Latawski (Royal Military Academy Sandhurst)

The Polish Home Army: Aims, Structure and External Support

Dr Latawski is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  He is a military historian who has written extensively on military doctrine, exiled armies and the 1944 Normandy campaign.  An important focus of his research is on the role of the Polish armed forces during and immediately after both world wars.


28 March 2018 Professor Carl Tighe (author of The Politics of Literature: Polish Writers under Communism)

Writers and Tradition

Until his retirement last year, Professor Carl Tighe was the head of the successful Creative Writing course at the University of Derby which he established nearly twenty years ago.  His The Politics of Literature presented an original study of the way writing during the Communist era was always politically engaged, one reviewer praised his account of a world in which ‘literature is politics by other means’.  In his more recent Writing & Responsibility Professor Tighe has written on the ethical dimension of writing,  on the way the private act of writing can have public consequences, on the specific responsibilities writers have towards their readers as well as themselves.   He has also written novels and short stories.

For more information on Professor Tighe here


9 May 2018 Workshop: The Life, Death and Significance of Szmuel Zygielbojm (beginning at 5pm)

On May 12 1943 Szmuel Zygielbojm, one of the two Jewish members on the Polish National Council, committed suicide in protest for the lack of any concrete Allied response to the Holocaust.  His suicide letter was addressed to the heads of the Polish government, then exiled in London, and through them to all the Allied states and ‘to the conscience of the world’.   Zygielbojm was a representative of the Jewish socialists, the Bund, and his desperate act was also a tragic act of solidarity,  in his suicide note he wrote, ‘I cannot live when the remainder of the Jewish nation in Poland, of which I am a representative, are being murdered’.  His death was also an expression of solidarity with his comrades who were fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, then in its final few days.

On the 75th anniversary of Zygielbojm’s death, this workshop will include a talk about the many significant aspects of Zygielbojm’s life and death, and on the need to guard his memory.  He was a Polish Jew, a Bundist and a socialist.  He believed that when the war is over Poles and Jews will be able to live together in a ‘world of freedom and socialist justice’.   His death was an act of protest ‘against a world which looked with indifference on the extermination of the Jews’.


Outline programme:

David Rosenberg (Chair, Zygielbojm Memorial Committee)

The struggle to memorialise Szmuel Zygielbojm in London

Dr Wojtek Rappak (PUNO)

Zygielbojm meets Jan Karski

Professor Michael Fleming (PUNO)

Zygielbojm, the Labour Party and the Holocaust




Mieczysława Wazacz (filmmaker)

Zygielbojm’s significance: Introduction to the film ‘Mur’ (with English subtitles)


Screening of Mur (Wall) (2007) dir: Mieczysława Wazacz