Coexistence and Conflict: The History of Eastern and Central European Jews

You are here

Course Information
Religious Studies
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

Basic knowledge of early modern, modern and contemporary European history.


The course is intended to discuss the most important turning points in the history of the East and Central European Jews from the early modern times to the present. The topics include the birth of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, the Jewish struggle for emancipation in the various East European societies in the 19th century, the peculiarities of Jewish life in the Habsburg Empire (especially during the 1867-1918 period) and in Czarist Russia, the rise of anti-Semitism and Zionism, the interwar period and the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in East and Central Europe, the Holocaust (including recent debates), the Jews in the Communist societies and in post-Communist Eastern and Central Europe.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students should:

  • Get familiar with the political, social, economic, and cultural history of the Jewish people in Eastern and Central Europe since the late Middle Ages to the present 
  • Acquire a deeper knowledge of the various issues related to the Jewish communities in this period with a special emphasis on the roots of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Discussions


Required work and form of assessment: 

Written midterm and final examinations; a home essay (10-12 pages)

Composition of final grade:

  • Midterm exam 40%
  • Final exam 40%
  • Home essay 10%
  • Class participation 10%
Session Topics Readings
  • Orientation. Definition of basic concepts: Eastern, Central, East-Central Europe
  • Johnson 1-8;
  • Guber 15-21
  • Various approaches to the history of Jews: ethnicity, nationality, religion, race.
  • Assimilation and dissimilation.
  • The origins and early history of the Jewish people.
  • The diaspora
  • Hobsbawm 1-8
  • The Jewish communities in Europe in the Middle Ages.
  • The beginnings of social and political discrimination.
  • Historical and political debates about the social, economic, political and cultural role of the Jews in Eastern and Central European history.
  • Cohn-Sherbock 121-143
  • The economic and social basis of Jewish autonomies in Poland
  • Goldberg 31-54
  • Kieniewicz 70-77
  • Assimilation and acculturation of Jews in Eastern Europe
  • Polonsky 1-22
  • Lichten 106- 129
  • Haumann 1-32, 99-204
  • Jews and the Habsburg Empire before 1867
  • McCagg 27-46, 123-139
  • The beginnings of ’self-denial’
  • High and low culture in Jewish society in Vienna
  • Beller 73-87
  • Johnston 158-62
  • Schorske 181-207
  • Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe
  •  Lendvai 32-45
  • Revision.
  • Midterm Exam
  •  The situation of East and Central European Jews between the two World Wars (with special reference to Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania)
  • Lendvai 32-45
  • A visit to the Jewish Museum (a guided tour).
  • Hitler’s coming to power
  • plans for the ’final solution’ of the Jewish question
  • The debate over the ’intentionalists’ and the ’functionalists’
  • Goldhagen
  • The Germans and the Holocaust.
  • The Catholic Church and the Holocaust
  • Deak 67-88; 100-110
  • The Holocaust in Eastern and Central Europe
  • Pók 147-57;
  • Braham 285-304
  • Deak 129-36
  • Stark 1-24
  • Florian 77-115
  • Sunshine (video) (The Jewish experience in Hungary in the late 19th and the 20th centuries)
  • Sunshine (continued).
  • Discussion.
  • The Jews in the Soviet bloc countries
  • Communism and anti-Semitism
  • Lendvai 3-31, 67-86
  • Wasserstein 180-205, 206-226
  • The Jewish people in post-Communist Eastern and Central Europe
  • Braham 1-30
  • Vörös 89-125
  • Chlenov 17-29
  • Revision
  • Final exam



Required readings: 

A Reader is available in the Library containing the texts identified above. The excerpts are from the following sources:

  • Abramsky, Ch.-Jachmczyk, M.-Polonsky, A. eds. (1986): The Jews in Poland
  • The Holy Bible (The Old Testament)
  • Braham, R. L.-Pók, A., eds. (1994): The Holocaust in Hungary Fifty Years Later
  • Braham, R. L. ed. (1994): The Tragedy of Romanian Jewry
  • Chlenov, M. ”The Jewish Community of Russia. The Present-day Situation”. East European Jewish Affairs. Summer 2002. 17-29.
  • Cohn-Sherbock, D. (1994): Atlas of Jewish History
  • Deak, I. (2001): Essays on Hitler’s Europe
  • Goldhagen, D. J. (1996): Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
  • Haumann, Heiko (2002): A History of East European Jews
  • Hobsbawm, Eric (2005): Benefits of Diaspora. London Review of Books online
  • Lendvai, P. (1971): Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe
  • McCagg, W. O. (1989): A History of Habsburg Jews 1670-1918
  • Pók, A. ”Germans, Hungarians and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry”. In: Cesaroni, D. ed. (1997): Genocide and Rescue. The Holocaust in Hungary in 1944
  • Polonsky, A.-Basista, J.-Lenczowski, A. eds. (1993): The Jews in Old Poland
  • Schorske, C. (1961): Fin-de-siecle Vienna
  • Stark, T. (1997): The Jewish Holocaust in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia Revisited
  • Vörös, K. ”How Jewish is Jewish Budapest?”. Jewish Social Studies. Fall 2001. 89-125.

(All required readings are available in a “Reader” available in the Institute’s library or in the different sources identified above.)