1999 Roger E. Joseph Prize Awarded to Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library, London, and Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw Religion

Monday, May 3, 1999

The 1999 Roger E. Joseph Prize was awarded to The Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library, in London, and the Jewish Historical Institute, in Warsaw, at Ordination and Investiture Services at Congregation Emanu-El in the City of New York, on May 16, 1999. In presenting the Prize, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, HUC-JIR President, stated, " These institutions have chronicled centuries of Jewish creativity and vitality in Germany, Poland and Central Europe before the Holocaust, and recorded the tragedy of Jewish annihilation during the Shoah. As preservers of memory, they remind us and the world of the sanctity of human life, and the ultimate consequences of intolerance and injustice. Their mission reinforces the College-Institute's commitment to ensure Jewish continuity and to defend the human rights of all people."

Linda Karshan, daughter of Roger E. Joseph and presenter of the Prize, noted, "We recognize these institutions' unique roles as the contemporaneous collectors of the documentation of genocide and as providers of evidence in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials and Eichmann Trial ; we celebrate their contributions as the preservers and disseminators of history and as educators of future generations."

The Roger E. Joseph Prize is an international award presented annually to an individual or organization which, by virtue of religious and moral commitment, has made a distinctive contribution to humanity. Established in 1978, previous recipients of the $10,000 award include Victor Kugler, who gave refuge to Anne Frank and her family during the Holocaust; Helen Suzman, the South African anti-apartheid activist; Rosa Parks, the mother of the modern civil rights movement; the village of Le Chambon, which gave refuge to Jews and Christians fleeing the Nazis during the Holocaust; posthumously to John Jorgen Holst, for facilitating the Middle East Peace Accords; and, last year, The Center for Victims of Torture and the Bellevue-NYU Program for Survivors of Torture.

The The Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library, in London, is the world's oldest institution for the study of antisemitism and the crimes of Nazi Germany, the history of German and Central European Jewry, the Holocaust and its aftermath. First established by Dr. Alfred Wiener as a Jewish information service and archive in Berlin in 1928, it was founded in its present form in Amsterdam in 1933, after Dr. Wiener fled there with part of the archive, where it played a central role in the effort of Germany's Jewish community to defend itself against the lies and machinations of the Nazi regime. The Wiener Library moved to London in 1939, where it made a major contribution to Britain's war effort. After the war, the Library collections of contemporaneous evidence of the Holocaust contributed significantly to the success of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials and, later, to the Eichmann Trial. The Wiener Library also established the world's first and largest collection of Eyewitness Accounts of the Holocaust. In addition to preserving its collections of books, periodicals, documents, photographs, eyewitness accounts, and video tapes, it sponsors academic conferences, scholarship and research.

The Jewish Historical Institute, in Warsaw, is the oldest and largest institution devoted to the study of the history of the Jews in Poland, and contains Poland's largest collection of related archival, library, and museum items. Dating back to 1881 as the library of the Great Synagogue on Tolmackie Street in Warsaw with a mission to collect documentation of local Jewish communities, its facility opened in 1936 with an expanded mission of research, pedagogy, and rabbinic and teacher training, and the collection of works by Jewish artists. During the Holocaust, while its library was plundered and its building partially destroyed, it was the center for the famous underground effort, directed by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, to research and document the life and liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and other Polish Jewish communities. In December 1944, it was named the Jewish Historical Commission and charged with the task of collecting documentation of the Holocaust and evidence in the trials of Nazi war criminals, and in 1947 renamed the Jewish Historical Institute. By 1950, when Jewish cultural and scholarly institutions were forced under state control, it absorbed the collections of local historical commissions, the Central Jewish Librarh, and the Jewish Association for Promotion of the Fine Arts and Historical Commissions. This established its current structure of a research division, archives, library, museum, and department for the documentation of monuments. The anit-Zionist campaign instigated by the Communist Party in 1967-68 irrevocably damaged the Jewish Historical Institute, with the emigration of staff, but today it has revived as a unique scholarly research institution and center for documentation, information, and education.

Professor Feliks Tych, Director, Jewish Historical Institute, said in acceptance of the Joseph Prize on behalf of his institution: "Poland is the greatest Jewish cemetery of European Jewry; it cannot be left unattended. We are the guardians of the rich Jewish traditions, as well of of the ashes, of the most important Jewish communities of pre-Holocaust Europe....The Ringelblum Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance movement, as well as the Holocaust testimonies collected during the last few months of the war and right after the liberation, were crucial evidence in the efforts to bring the Nazi perpetrators to justice and have enduring scholarly value. The Polish government never allowed these records to leave Poland, so the Jewish Historical Institute must stay where it is....A century ago, 80% of world Jewry resided in Poland and Lithuania. Today,70% of world Jewry has Polish roots and we are the Jewish bridge to those roots....We must counteract Polish antisemitism educating Polish youth. Our efforts to introduce Poland's Jewish past into Polish educational curriculum is gaining momentum."

In accepting the Joseph Prize on behalf of the Institute for Contemporary History and Wiener Library, Professor David Cesarani, its Director stated, "The Wiener Library exists to remind people how democracy falters and how civil society can descend into barbarism. The shocking material which we harbour is one of the strongest antidotes to intolerance which can be administered to those who have never themselves experienced it or been prone to it, but who might one day become is victims or perpetrators.... When the Jews were driven from their homes and massacred during the Holocaust, the free world did precious little, and what it did do was too small in measure and too late in the day. The world leaders who have sent military forces to counter and we hope reverse the 'ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo are acting, I think, with the example of history before them. One may question the strategy and tactics of NATO, but the motives for this war are unimpeachable. NATO is giving muscle to the rhetoric, "Never Again." For this slogan to have force, people must know what it was that happened during the Holocaust and that it cannot be allowed to happen again; they must know why what is happening today is an abomination and not an aberration that can be tolerated in a far away place about which we know little. This is the mission of the Wiener Library....Our institution's work does not stop with the Holocaust. For more than five decades the Wiener Library has monitored and charted the far right in Europe, the currents of racism and political intolerance that have ebbed and flowed in one country after another. It has amassed an arsenal of information on neo-Nazis, neo-Fascists, white supremacists, and anti-semites that is used daily by legal agencies and the media. Our Library has also played a part in the investigation and prosecution of Nazi-era war criminals who found refuge in Britain."

Read the complete text of Professor Cesarani's acceptance speech.


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