To celebrate the end of a two-year project to produce an important publication drawing from its collections, and to further related scholarship, the Hoover Institution Library & Archives hosted a book talk to discuss I Saw the Angel of Death: Experiences of Polish Jews Deported to the USSR during World War II (Hoover Institution Press, 2022). This book presents the first English translation of more than 170 harrowing testimonies of Polish Jews deported to the Soviet gulag during World War II, allowing a new generation of readers to understand their grueling experiences under Nazi and Soviet occupations and in the Siberian forced-labor camps. The project was conceived by volume editors Dr. Maciej Siekierski, Hoover curator emeritus and former research fellow, and Professor Feliks Tych (1929–2015), who drew from more than 30,000 original testimonies, which have been preserved by the Library & Archives for over 60 years, to be translated for the book, which was first published in Poland.
Taube Family Foundation Curator for European Collections Katharina Friedla welcomed Eliyana Adler, associate professor at Penn State University; Atina Grossmann, professor at Cooper Union, New York; and Katherine Jolluck, senior lecturer at Stanford University, to discuss I Saw the Angel of Death in Hoover’s Annenberg Conference Room. Representatives of the Suzanna Cohen Legacy Foundation, which supported the book’s English translation, and members from the project at the Hoover Institution Press and the Library & Archives also attended, along with other Stanford affiliates and interested individuals from the broader public. The event also reached an international online audience.
Topics that were discussed included the circumstances and political context under which Polish Jews were deported into the interior of the Soviet Union; the eventual release of surviving individuals from Soviet forced-labor camps and evacuation to Palestine; reflections on the exceptional value and uniqueness of the published testimonies; and information on the creation of these sources and their transfer to Hoover Institution Library & Archives. Near the conclusion of the event, Karolina Klermon-Williams, who served as the primary translator of the book, shared her reflections on the project, noting the many layers of interpretation of the people's lived histories: the layer of memory, the act of collecting first-person testimonies, and translating the testimonies from Polish to English.
An unexpected moment occurred when a member of the in-person audience revealed that he was one of the Jewish children survivors of this historical episode. Unlike those giving testimony in the book, he was not evacuated to Palestine and was able to stay with his parents in Soviet Russia until the end of World War II. Eventually, they were repatriated to Poland and later emigrated to France.
The day concluded with Friedla bringing professors Adler and Grossman, along with the representatives from the Suzanna Cohen Legacy Foundation, to the Library & Archives Reading Room to examine the original documents of the first-person accounts published in the book, located in the Poland. Ministerstwo Informacji i Dokumentacji records, and other archival materials.
Watch the discussion, now available online.