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Duke scholar will present 'The Jews in the Show'

Friday, January 26, 2018

LAWRENCE — Duke University Professor Beth Holmgren will present “The Jews in the Show: Performing Poland for the Allies, 1942-1945” at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29, in the English Room of the Kansas Union.

The Spring 2018 Oswald P. Backus/Anna Cienciała Memorial Lecture will focus on practices in the Polish army that General Władysław Anders was allowed to form on Soviet territory in 1941 Subsequently 115,000 Polish soldiers and their families were evacuated from the USSR to British-controlled Iran, Iraq, Syria and Mandate Palestine.

Renamed the II Corps, Anders Army was criticized by Jewish organizations in the West for its anti-semitism. However, the resulting “theater units” in which the artists toured brilliantly represented Poland to its Western allies as a modern nation with first-rate musical and comedic talent and beautifully packaged folk traditions. These “Jews in the show” excelled as the Army’s ambassadors under Western eyes.

Holmgren is a professor of Polish and Russian cultures and holds secondary appointments in theater studies and gender and sexuality studies. She taught previously at the University of California-San Diego and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Holmgren served as president of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2008 and president of the Association for Women in Slavic Studies from 2003 to 2005.

Her recent books include a cultural biography, “Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America” (Indiana, 2012), which won four national awards. Holmgren’s biography of a 16-year-old girl who fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, “Warsaw is My Country: The Story of Krystyna Bierzyńska, 1928-1945,” will be published in February 2018.

This lecture is sponsored by the KU Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies. It is made possible by the Oswald P. Backus and Anna Cienciała Memorial Fund.

The Backus/Cienciała Lecture is dedicated to the memory of Professors Oswald P. Backus III (1921-72) and Anna Cienciała (1929-2014). Backus was one of the early driving forces behind the development of KU as a nationally known center for the study of Russia and Eastern Europe. In the 1960s, these efforts led to the formation of the Slavic and Soviet Area Studies program, now known as the Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies.

Cienciała was a longtime professor in history and Russian & East European studies at KU. She was an expert in Polish, European, Soviet and American diplomacy of the interwar period and an inspired teacher of East Central European history. Over the course of her career she wrote two books and edited five. She was the recipient of a number of honors, including the Polish Cross of Merit and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland with Star.

Holmgren will also present a lecture at noon Tuesday, Jan. 30, titled “The Country of Warsaw: Rethinking Urban Polish History.” This informal talk will be held as part of the CREES Brownbag lecture series, presented weekly at noon Tuesdays in 318 Bailey Hall.

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