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Department of Anthropology Speaker Series presents: Barbara Rylko-Bauer

Dr. Paul & Natalie Strasser Legacy Room - 220 Eggers Hall

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A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps”: Reflections on Narrative, History, and Memory in Intimate Ethnography


Over the past fourteen years, I have been involved in a project that resulted in the recent publication of a book titled, A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps: My Mother’s Memories of Imprisonment, Immigration, and a Life Remade (University of Oklahoma Press, 2014). My approach integrates anthropological life history and ethnographic methods with world history, memory, and literary craft. The result is an “intimate ethnography” focused on my mother’s experiences during World War II and how they shaped her subsequent life, both as a woman and as a physician. Jadwiga Lenartowicz Rylko was a young Polish Catholic physician at the start of the war. Arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of resistance activities, she endured three concentration camps and a 42-day death march. During much of her imprisonment, she served as a prisoner-doctor in Jewish slave labor camps. I also examine the aftermath of these wartime experiences—how one “survives survival,” picking up the pieces of a shattered past and remaking a life—as a refugee doctor in Germany and later, as an immigrant in the United States. I will also discuss the ways in which I embedded family narrative in broader frames of political economy and socio-historical context—thus giving meaning beyond the personal, and reflect on some of the challenges of this kind of research and writing.

Dr. Barbara Rylko-Bauer is an author and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Michigan State University.

Co-sponsored by the Department of History and Jewish Studies

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