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Feliks Tych – on his 80th Birthday

Feliks Tych, ITH honorary member, is one of those personalities who molded the International Conference of Labour and Social History and its Linz conferences in a distinctive manner since the 1970s.

Tych was born as the ninth child of a Jewish family in Warsaw on 31 July 1929. He grew up in Radomsko (Noworadomsk), one of the oldest cities in Central Poland, situated on the first railway line from Warsaw to Vienna. The majority of the population of this small town was Jewish, Tych’s father was owner of metal works there. Only three days after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 the German Wehrmacht occupied the town that was only 60 km (40 mi) away from the then German-Polish border. On 20 December the German occupation authorities established here the first Ghetto in the so called "General Government Poland". After telltale signs for an imminent "Aktion" against the Ghetto population in Summer 1942, Feliks Tych’s parents decided to entrust their 13 years old son to a non-Jewish friend who brought him secretly to Warsaw. The ghetto was actually liquidated on 9 October 1942. Whereas parents and siblings of Feliks Tych were murdered in the extermination camp of Treblinka, he could survive in Warsaw with false documents as "orphaned" nephew of a Polish grammar school teacher.

In 1960 Feliks Tych "habilitated" with a thesis about the left wing of PPS (Polish Socialist Party) during World War I. His commitment to scholarly research into the history of labour movement and his organisational talent emerged already in 1957, when he succeeded in convincing the Historical Institute at the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party to publish the first journal for social and labour history – the quarterly "Z Pola Walki" ("From the Battlefield").

During the purge of the communist party, which was carried out under anti-Semitic influence, in 1968 Tych lost his post at Institute for History at the Polish Academy of Science. Also his wife Lucyna, daughter of Jakub Berman, one of the pioneers of the communist movement in Poland, was elbowed out from her job as stage director. Tych was not only "purged" from all scholarly bodies he had been member of, he was even removed from his office as editor-in-chief of his own journal. He did not resign though, and completed – as an "independent writer" – his edition of the correspondence between Rosa Luxemburg and her fellow combatant and lover Leon Jogiches; Tych published the thousand letters in three volumes between 1968 and 1971. When the anti-Semitic surge had died down, in 1970, Tych was appointed as associated professor, in 1971 engaged by the archive of the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party. In 1982 he became professor of history.

The Luxemburg letters edition made Tych an internationally renowned scholar. In multiple professional and personal contacts "western" colleagues were able to assure themselves of Tych’s impressive knowledge and personal integrity.

The meeting place that popularised Tych especially among German speaking scholars on the one hand, and made it possible for him to interfere in international scholarly debates, was Linz or, to be more exact: the conferences at the Jägermayrhof. Almost every September Feliks Tych took part in the ITH conferences.

Tych’s role did not rely exclusively on his papers, he also put forward proposals and dissenting opinions with vivid commitment during the Annual General Meetings of the organisation. By that he influenced considerably the determination of the topics of future conferences, and thus the future development of ITH. Tych’s role for the continuance of the attraction of the Linz conferences after the end of the Cold War can hardly be overestimated.

He still plays an important role in this respect, although age and other international commitments hampered an annual presence in Linz – especially after 1996, when he assumed the direction of the Jewish Historical Institute (Zydowski Instytut Historyczny) in Warsaw for more than ten years. But even when he was not able to attend the conferences themselves, Feliks Tych has been getting involved in the preparation in a committed manner.

Winfried Garscha