Dr Piotr Grącikowski dies at 44

Polish philologist, librarian, Jewish studies scholar, and ethnographer. Our friend and companion in the ups and downs of academic work. Piotr Grącikowski died during the night of January 3, 2021. He remained cheerful, creative, and open to others until the end despite the hardships of his long illness. He will be much missed by all.

Piotr was born in 1976 in Wrocław, where he attended the K.K. Baczyński VII high school in Wrocław in 1991-95, and then began Polish philological studies at the University of Wrocław, which he completed in 2001 with a master’s thesis supervised by Prof. Jerzy Woronczak. His most important scholarly interests were formed during this period: his rapport with his outstanding mentor, Prof. Woronczak; his endless, meandering, but always invigorating conversations with Prof. Bogusław Bednarek; his passion for Jewish culture; but also his tendency toward the “unruly,” as he put it, his fascination with forgotten, seemingly trivial or frivolous topics. His enjoyment of Jewish games, including his favorite Yiddish social flirtation games, was born out of an inclination towards “unruly” matters. While a student, he self-published a satirical and literary periodical “Sporadnik Obsesjograficzny Seplenzia”, an ironic commentary on the experiences of a student of Polish philology.

After graduation, Piotr worked for a short time as a Polish language teacher, then as an editor at Siedmioróg and then Larousse Polska publishers. He eventually found employment at the Ossoliński National Institute, where he worked on book acquisitions. He continued to pursue his academic work, fully immersed in the research of primary sources, without which the study of history does not exist. In 2005, Piotr applied to the Department of Jewish Studies at the University of Wrocław to do his PhD. As his thesis, he chose the work of the Jewish ethnographer Regina Liliental, and devoted years to studying her life and work. We used to joke that Liliental was the great love of his life. His doctoral thesis, Portrait of a pre-war Jewish ethnographer, Regina Liliental, submitted in 2013, is an excellent biographical study of one of the most important and at the same time one of the most forgotten figures in the history of Jewish ethnography in Central and Eastern Europe. As Prof. Haya Bar-Itzhak wrote in her review, Piotr’s work perfectly illuminated the reasons for her having been forgotten, and at the same time “corrected this injustice.”

His work had true cognitive and ethical significance for Piotr, and was fundamental to his academic approach. Equally characteristic of Piotr was his exemplary reliability in terms of his primary source research and his analytical and interpretive maturity. In 2016, his doctoral thesis was awarded the 1st honorable mention in the category of the best doctoral dissertations in the Majer Bałaban competition for the best doctoral and master’s theses on Jewish subjects organized by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute. In a slightly revised version, Piotr’s dissertation served as an extensive introduction to his magnum opus, The Ethnographic Writings of Regina Liliental, which he had been preparing for print in recent years. Piotr read every piece of material left by Liliental to be found in the archives, compared every article with the found manuscripts, supplemented, corrected and prepared it all for publication, setting in many respects a new gold standard for critical academic editions. His monumental and long-awaited work is almost ready. For many decades to come, it will not only serve researchers of Jewish ethnography, but it will also remind us of Piotr’s life and scholarly passions. Of his “unruly” wit, warmth, and his smile.

Farewell, Dear Friend