In Memoriam: Feliks Tych (1929-2015)—An Outstanding Rosa Luxemburg Researcher and Historian of the European Labor Movement and Post-Holocaust Issues — by Ottokar Luban

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img_5953On February 17, 2015 Dr. Feliks Tych passed away in Warsaw at the age of 85. The distinguished Polish scholar is well known to North American and UK historians mainly for his important research results on the famous Polish-German socialist Rosa Luxemburg and the Jewish Bund.

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During World War II his Jewish parents were able to give him to a Polish family, so he survived while all other family members became victims of the Holocaust. After the war he studied history in Warsaw and Moscow and in 1960 he received his post-doctoral degree (habilitation) with a thesis about the Left Polish Socialist Party (PPS) in World War I. Between 1956 and 1968 he worked at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences and in the History Department of the Polish Workers Movement. During these years and later as well, he initiated several important projects and very carefully edited a number of reference books and documentary volumes, including the “Biographical Dictionary of Polish Labor Movement” and the “Archive of the Labor Movement,” which included unknown documents from Polish and Russian archives in 11 volumes. This included material from the journal Z pola walki, which contained many essays and documents, including unknown letters by Rosa Luxemburg letters that he discovered in a Moscow archive.

But in 1968 as a result of the anti-Jewish purges in Poland he was dismissed. Nevertheless he continued his scientific work—for the next two years as a “free” academic writer —publishing three volumes of the complete letters of Rosa Luxemburg to her close companion Leo Jogiches. This was a pioneer work that was translated (in part) into German, French, and English and had a great impact in inspiring research on Rosa Luxemburg. It was especially this work that gave him an international reputation in the early years of his career. When the anti-Semitic wave in Poland receded he was able to work again as the head of the archive of the Polish Labor Party and was appointed an extraordinary professor in 1970, and full professor in 1982.

After the cancellation of travel restrictions for him by the Polish communist authorities he was able to re-join the “International Conference of Labor and Social History,” an annual congress in the city of Linz, Austria and a meeting place for international scholars of the labor movement. With his active participation he influenced the meetings as a bridge builder between “Eastern” and “Western” European historians, which was quite a difficult but important task in the era of the Cold War. In the same spirit he worked actively in the “International Rosa Luxemburg Society” (Chairman: Prof. Narihiko Ito, Tokyo) since its foundation in 1980. Due to his international reputation he received invitations from foreign universities and in the 1990s worked as visiting professor at several German universities. From 1995 to 2006 he headed the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, during which time he improved its financial stability and its scientific and public influence and reputation. One result was the Museum of Polish Jews, which he initiated and realized with the help of many volunteers. Several important publication projects (some of which he even continued after his retirement) included document editions like the Ringelblum archive papers from the Warsaw Ghetto, documents on the Polish Jews who had fled to the Russian occupied part of Poland, and children’s interviews on the Holocaust (1944-1948). At the same time he still lectured and published on labor movement issues. As a special honor he was asked to give the memorial speech before the German Parliament on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on January 27, 2010.

Prof. Tych leaves a rich scientific heritage: He was author of five monographs and a most careful editor of 26 volumes of reference books on labor movement and Jewish history in Eastern and Central Europe during the late nineteenth and the twentieth century. He was a most appreciated lecturer at international conferences and a much demanded writer by scientific journals, giving altogether about 300 presentations—from Germany to France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Israel, the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Japan.

During many well-organized conferences in Warsaw (e. g. 1996 on Rosa Luxemburg, 1997 and 2012 on the Jewish Bund) friends and colleagues enjoyed his generous hospitality. Feliks Tych will always be kept in mind as an outstanding historian, and an inspiring, encouraging colleague and good friend.

Ottokar Luban, International Rosa Luxemburg Society

 

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