Refugees and citizens in East-Central Europe in the 20th century

Lidia Zessin-Jurek and Katharina Friedla at the University of Warsaw

On 14 January 2021, Lidia Zessin-Jurek (Unlikely Refuge?) and Katharina Friedla were invited to present their book “Syberiada Żydów polskich” at a seminar organized by the Faculty of History at the University of Warsaw.

Literature often describes the experience of refugees as an ‘odyssey’. Lidia Zessin-Jurek and Katharina Friedla together with the seminar participants pondered the many meanings of the title of the presented book. The word Syberiada – Sibirade – is not easily translatable into English and could stand for ‘Siberian Odyssey’ or ‘Siberian exile’, none of which conveys the intimate meaning of the original term.

‘Syberiada’ is very dear to the Polish people as it traditionally refers to the martyrdom of Poles sentenced to exile in the depths of Russia and later commemorating their experience mainly via symbols and language related to the Catholic tradition. The book enlarges the meaning of ‘Syberiada’ by casting light on the overlooked experience of Polish wartime refugees of Jewish descent to the USSR who, after their flight, were sent to Siberia. The meaning of the words odyssey, exile, syberiada in the context of Jewish refugees and the consequences of terminological choices were some of the topics discussed at the seminar.