Aleksandra Bańkowska’s dissertation will be a monograph on the work of the whole social welfare system for the Jews in German-occupied Warsaw undertaken since the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 until the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. Due to directives issued by the German administration in occupied Poland, the majority of the Jewish population was deprived of their possessions and paid work opportunities already several months after the outbreak of the war. Moreover, a huge number of refugees had arrived in Warsaw, both from western Poland and the towns of the Warsaw district. In the spring of 1941 around 1/3 of the ghetto population came from outside of Warsaw; they were mainly people deprived of all resources and condemned to social welfare. Welfare services in Warsaw were provided by both pre-war charity organizations and the Judenrat, as well as the Jewish Social Self-Help, an institution established for this purpose by the German authorities. Because of huge amount of needs, fighting with poverty could be seemed as the history of resistance in the first stage of the Holocaust, when death camps did not exist yet.
The dissertation aims are: (1) to reconstruct structure of welfare institutions, their internal relations, the role of some individual activists; (2) to examine their relations with German authorities, Polish welfare institutions and Jewish humanitarian organizations abroad, in order to answear a question of funding; (3) to describe areas of welfare activities, such as feeding the starving, providing medical care and childcare, helping deportees, organizing self-help and others, not necessary traditionally-understood as welfare services, like vocational courses or clandestine education; (4) to assess the role of welfare organizations in the ghetto specially facing the fact of their failure in rescuing people from hunger and deseases; the initial hypothesis is, that they played important politicial, social and cultural role completely besides the philanthropic tasks.
Aleksandra Bańkowska is a PhD student in the Institute of History in Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. She prepares her dissertation under supervision of Dr. Tadeusz Epsztein. She also works as an editor in the project of full Polish edition of documents from the Underground Achive of the Warsaw Ghetto (Ringelblum’s Archive). She will use the Saul Kagan Fellowship to complete her dissertation.