Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Fashioning Jewish gay self-identities in interwar Poland

Fri31  Mar04:55pm(20 mins)
Main Building Room 466


Piotr Laskowski1
1 University of Warsaw, Poland


This paper offers a look at the biographies of four Jewish gay cis men whose paths never crossed, albeit they all lived in the city of Warsaw: Mordechai Mendel (born 1868), a criminal, folk hero, and Hasidic mystic; Józef Halpern (b. 1911), an activist of the youth organization Hashomer Hatzair; Józef Rajnfeld (b. 1908), a promising young painter and member of the Polish artistic elite; and Stefan Królikowski (b. 1881), a communist militant elected a member of Polish parliament. They belonged to different generations and different social milieus. Two of them tried to inscribe a gay identity on forms of life that were properly Jewish, even if in conflict with one another – religious and Zionist. Two others transcended national boundaries and identities – either by adhering to the artistic, cosmopolitan elite, or through revolutionary militancy.


Each of these biographies can be reconstructed from very specific types of sources: press accounts, mostly of a scandalous character; personal diaries; love letters of great literary value; and parliamentary speeches and political writings. These multiple sources give us an opportunity to glimpse various strategies of fashioning Jewish gay identities in interwar Poland: they show how being Jewish and being gay was defined, negotiated, affirmed, or negated at a time of turbulent peripheral modernization and thriving nationalism of the dominant Polish majority.