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

New Publication: On a Melting Ice Floe – Polish Jewish Wartime Refugees in Central Asia by Lidia Zessin-Jurek

A new article by Lidia Zessin-Jurek has been published in the Journal of Genocide Research on 14 June 2023 (

During World War II, tens of thousands of Polish Jewish refugees spent several years in Soviet Central Asia. Yet, little of the intriguing character of the Silk Road remains in their memories. Rather, these convey the years of exile as a desperate attempt to survive in conditions where refugees’ lives depended on the confusingly numerous and varied power actors in the region. Drawing on first-person narratives, the article describes how navigating between these actors affected the postwar identities of Polish Jews. Their refugee history ran the gamut from criminalization (by the Germans and Soviets) to discrimination (by the Polish state in exile). It turns out that the experience of Polish antisemitism and civic exclusion that caught up with them in this remote region was one of the strongest affects in their memory. By analyzing eastern destinations (Central Asia) as a space of refugee accommodation, we can appreciate the significance of this geography for the postwar disidentification of Jewish survivors with Poland. It was not only the attitude of fellow Poles in the German-occupied country during the war, but also their treatment of the citizenship of Polish Jewish refugees in Central Asia as significantly inferior that cast a lasting shadow over the emotions of surviving Jews toward their country of origin.