UCL Institute of Jewish Studies


Bird Streets

28 February 2023, 6:00 pm–7:00 pm

Bird Streets

A discussion of a collection of inter-connecting stories about streets in central Warsaw inhabited by Jews before 1939 and now demolished

Event Information

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Sara Ben-Isaac

On the occasion of the publication of the English translation of Piotr Paziński’s collection of four novellas Bird Streets (Ptasie ulice, 2013), author Piotr Paziński and translator Ursula Phillips discuss the work with Professor Antony Polonsky. Set within the Warsaw ghetto, Bird Streets tells four connecting stories. The novel recaptures vestiges of a culture once abundantly present but now abjectly absent. This “post memory” sparks hidden remnants, echoes, and signs, and clings to underground whisperings. While not a Holocaust memoir, Bird Streets touches all four narrators intrigued by a world not quite lost. This world of generations past continues to speak. The book’s tone is not bleak though. It is wistful and reflective, with irony and gentle humor.

The book is Paziński’s second work of fiction, following The Boarding House (Pensjonat, 2009), which appeared in English in 2018. The eponymous Bird Streets refer to the pre-war names, several still surviving, of streets in the Muranów or Northern District of central Warsaw where many Jews lived before 1939 and which were enclosed in the Ghetto in November 1940. Following the forced transportation of the Jewish residents to extermination camps and the crushing of the Ghetto Uprising (19 April-16 May 1943), the area encompassed by the Bird Streets was razed to the ground. Hidden remnants, echoes and signs can still be found, especially underground.


About the Speakers

Piotr Paziński

Literary critic, philosopher, translator, and novelist of Jewish heritage

Piotr Paziński is a literary critic, philosopher, translator, and novelist of Jewish heritage who lives in Warsaw and writes in Polish. From 2000 to 2019, Paziński was editor-in-chief of Midrasz, a monthly journal published in Warsaw on Jewish culture, religion, literature, and history including Polish/Jewish relations past and present. He is author of two volumes of critical essays: Torn and Frayed Reality (Rzeczywistość poprzecierana, 2015), which includes essays on Joyce, Kafka, Borges, Paul Celan and Polish-Jewish writers of the interwar period; and Fake Realities (Atrapy stworzenia, 2020) about dolls, dummies, wax-figure cabinets, androids and mannequins in 19th-century Western culture. Paziński also translates from Hebrew into Polish. In 2017 he received the Tadeusz Boy- Żeleński Prize awarded by the City of Gdańsk for his translation of stories by Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970).

Ursula Phillips

A British translator of Polish literary and academic works, and an historian of Polish literature specializing in women of the 19th and 20th centuries

Ursula Phillips is a British translator of Polish literary and academic works, and an historian of Polish literature specializing in women of the 19th and 20th centuries. Recent translations include novels by interwar writer Zofia Nałkowska, Choucas (1927) and Boundary (1935), which received the Found in Translation Award 2015 and the PIASA (Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America) Wacław Lednicki Award 2017 respectively. Her most recent translations include Grzegorz Niziołek’s The Polish Theatre of the Holocaust (2019) and Another Canon: The Polish Nineteenth-Century Novel in World Context, edited by Grażyna Borkowska and Lidia Wiśniewska (2020). She is currently translating the 1000-page sci-fi-cum-alternative-history epic Ice (2007) by contemporary author Jacek Dukaj.

Antony Polonsky

Emeritus Professor of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University

Antony Polonsky  is also the Chief Historian of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw.

François Guesnet

Professor of Modern Jewish History at University College London

François Guesnet specializes in Eastern European Jewish History and is co-chair of the editorial board of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry.