Required Reading

The true and harrowing account of Primo Levi’s experience at the German concentration camp of Auschwitz and his miraculous survival; hailed by The Times Literary Supplement as a “true work of art, this edition includes an exclusive conversation between the author and Philip Roth.

In 1943, Primo Levi, a twenty-five-year-old chemist and “Italian citizen of Jewish race,” was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. Survival in Auschwitz is Levi’s classic account of his ten months in the German death camp, a harrowing story of systematic cruelty and miraculous endurance. Remarkable for its simplicity, restraint, compassion, and even wit, Survival in Auschwitz remains a lasting testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit. Included in this new edition is an illuminating conversation between Philip Roth and Primo Levi never before published in book form.

Suggested Reading

Whether you look into these books and films before or after our summer academy, we promise you’ll learn a great deal from them
Like Isaac Bashevis Singer's fiction, this poignant memoir of his childhood in the household and rabbinical court of his father is full of spirits and demons, washerwomen and rabbis, beggars and rich men. This rememberance of Singer's pious father, his rational yet adoring mother, and the never-ending parade of humanity that marched through their home is a portrait of a magnificent writer's childhood self and of the world, now gone, that formed him.

The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman, by Andrzej Szczpiorski

Some readers have called this novel the best story ever written about Poles and Jews. It is a deeply moving novel that races back and forth in time, from the years before the Warsaw Ghetto until today, always returning to Warsaw under Nazi occupation.  In this complex tale, Poles hide Jews, Jews are betrayed by Poles and Jews, Jews and Poles hide and escape together.

Poems New and Selected ,by Wislawa Szymborska.  

The French still produce great chefs, the Italians are masters of design, but when it comes to poetry, the Poles are remarkable: we suggest anything by Szymborska, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, just as we do Czeslaw Milosz, who also won the Nobel.  Milosz also wrote a series of insightful, poignant memoirs: Native Realm is his best.

The Pages in Between, by Erin Einhorn. 

A young NY Daily News reporter travels to Poland to find the family who hid her mother during the war.  She expects to write a warm and fuzzy story of friendship and commitment.  What she uncovers is anything but that.  An honest, searching book as told by a young American with a fresh approach.

Fear, and Neighbors, both by Jan Gross.  

Two searing, hard-to-read books that have caused great controversy in Poland.  Neighbors tells the true story of how the townfolk of Jedwabne murdered their Jewish neighbors; Fear is a detailed account of post-war Polish anti-Semitism, which was brutal and murderous.

Bloodlands, by Timothy Snyder

Snyder is one of the most important historians working today and this new study is based on years of archival research in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Germany and Ukraine.  This book details how both Stalin and Hitler treated the lands between them--the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine, and how many people they shot, starved and gassed.  A very powerful historical study.


Ida, by Pawel Pawlikowski

Anna, a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation.

Katyn, by Andrzej Wajda

Wajda is Poland’s greatest filmmaker.  His early films, such as Ashes and Diamonds, Kanal, Man of Iron, Man of Marble, won him an Oscar, a Berliniale, and other awards.  The story of the massacre of tens of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviets in the forest of Katyn is seared into Polish memory.  This is a harrowing film.

Three Colors: White

Directed by Krzysztof Kielowski, this ironic and very black comedy tells the story of a Polish hairdresser, Karol Karol, in Paris whose beautiful wife (Julie Delpy) divorces him.  Down on his luck, a mysterious Pole convinces him to do a “job” for him in Warsaw.   We see post-Communist Poland embracing capitalism with gusto and Karol works to fit in.

Suggested videos

An 11:00 history of Poland by Norman Davies

Documentary (a bit overdone) on the battle for Warsaw, 1944, but good footage 85% of Warsaw was leveled in 1944. Here is footage taken a year later.

A six minute short summary of Solidarity.

Ten minutes by the same British doc team with good footage --by far the best short doc you'll find

A fine one hour documentary, made in Poland, about the decade of the 1980s. Every major player in Polish history then is in this film. Very well done.

US Cold War propaganda was ham-fisted, badly done and corny--and that's when it was done well. Here are eight shorts the Reagan administration put out, "Let Poland Be Poland.” Here's a link to Charlton Heston growling his way through the introduction. The others, by Kirk Douglas and others, are even more painful to watch.

Suggested podcasts

Significant Others by Eva Hoffman, a fine journalist whose book, Lost in Translation, is a minor classic
Part one
Part two

Alan Little spent three decades at the BBC, and this is his profile of Poland in Europe Moves East

Oxford University's podcast of Timothy Snyder speaking on Poland, Ukraine and the Politics of History. Not terribly well recorded but any time spent with Tim Snyder is time well spent.

The Guardian Focus Podcast: What Poland Did Right
A panel of experts discuss how Poland managed to dodge the 2008 World Economic Crisis.