By Holly Robertson Huffnagle, 2012 AJC Fellow 

The Tatar mosque in Navahrudak (Polish: Nowogródek), present-day Belarus, was originally built in 1855. In 1993, the building was renovated and re-established as a mosque by imam Ali Szegidewicz. Photo by Holly R. Huffnagle.

Before the Holocaust, Jews and Muslims lived in close proximity in the kresy (borderlands) of northeastern Poland. While an abundance of literature exists on Jewish-Christian relations in Poland, no scholarly comparison of the history of coexistence specifically between Jews and Muslims in this territory had been done. I chose to pursue this research, documenting (for the first time) the intimate living situation of these two Abrahamic faith minorities in interwar Poland. In a handful of small villages and even larger towns, they traded together on the market square, Muslims bought their meat from the local Jewish shochet (kosher slaughter), the Jews received fresh vegetables from their Muslim neighbors, and they even celebrated certain religious holidays together. These stories complicate previous arguments of self-imposed minority separateness, which argue that social interactions between Jews and non-Jews were uniformly minimal and superficial.

The ideas for this project initially occurred to me during the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellows Program in 2012. Being a Fellow provided me not only with the necessary background knowledge of Jewish history in Poland, but also with Polish connections who helped facilitate my trip to Warsaw and Białystok to conduct archival research in the summer of 2013. I credit my experience as an AJC Fellow to the successful publication of this project into an article: Peaceful Coexistence?: Jewish and Muslim Neighbors on the Eve of the Holocaust, published by East European Jewish Affairs in January 2015.

Holly Robertson Huffnagle works as an analyst for the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She is also a researcher for the Mandel Center of Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She received her Masters from Georgetown University in Global, International, and Comparative history focusing on 20th century Poland and Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations before, during, and after the Holocaust.

The Auschwitz Jewish Center is operated by the Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. For additional blog entries by and about the Auschwitz Jewish Center, please visit All Spring 2015 newsletter articles are found here.