1800 to 1939
As the 19th century began, the Jewish community differed from the other groups of citizens of the partitioned country in their speech, customs and religion. They were also in different legal positions which were defined in the statutes of each of the ruling powers and the short-lived Duchy of Warsaw (1807-15) created by Napoleon. The laws that were derived from the period of the Commonwealth (prior to partition), laid down different rules for each estate: the gentry, the clergy, the burghers and the peasants. The place of Jews in society was defined by separate laws and thus they formed another independent estate.
The foreign partitioning powers introduced many changes to these laws, for the most part to the detriment of their Jewish populations as compared with their status in pre-partition Poland. In spite of this regression, it was during the 19th century that the process of gradual emancipation of Jews was initiated. This was closely connected with the social liberation aims of the rest of the population.
In the part of Poland which was governed by Austria, the basic legal regulations concerning Jews were introduced during the late 18th century. They restricted the number of occupations that Jews were allowed to perform (for example they were forbidden to be chemists, brewers or flour-millers), engaging in trade was limited and some of the Jews were forced to move from country to towns. It should be added that some towns still enjoyed the privilege of de non tolerandis Judaeis, such as Biala, Jaslo, Wieliczka and Zywiec. In others, the occupation authorities forced the Jews to live in special quarters, ghettos, in the cities of Lvov, Nowy Sacz and Tarnow. These new regulations, which were introduced as a ''progressive reform'', contributed to the worsening of the living conditions of a large part of Jewish society. According to estimates, in the 1820's in Galicia over forty per cent of all Jews had no permanent employment thus forming the proletariat (Luftmenshen) who lived ''from the air''.
These restrictions applied above all to the poor strata whom the Austrian authorities thought to be a troublesome element. On the other hand, rich entrepreneurs enjoyed a relatively wide scope of freedom of activity. Thus this policy led to the intensification of material and social differences among the Jews. While certain individuals managed to acquire riches, the overwhelming majority lived in poverty.
Jewish merchants played important role in Galicia. Major trade centers were Lvov and Brody. The latter became a large commercial center in Central Europe due to its convenient location across communication routes and to it acquiring, in the first half of the 19th century, customs privileges which promoted trade with Russia.
Basic changes in the situation of Galician Jewry took place after 1848. Jews were active in the revolutionary movement of the period, which resulted in a Polish-Jewish reconciliation and Jewish emancipation. In the years following 1859 the Austrian authorities began to gradually repeal legal restrictions. In 1867-68 all citizens, Jews included, were finally made equal in the eyes of the law.
As a result of difficult economic conditions in Galicia, equal rights were not enough to solve many everyday problems. Poor economic conditions forced many people to emigrate. Generally, Jews from Galicia sought work in other countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, sometimes in Vienna, and also in Hungary and the Balkan countries. Towards the end of the 19th century the wave of peasant emigration included many Jews as well. Between 1881 and 1900 some 150,000 Jews emigrated, while between 1900 and 1914 about 175,000 Jews from Galicia left for the United States.
The repressive Prussian laws introduced in former Polish territories were directed against the Jewish proletariat. There were a number of restrictions which, among other things, aimed at forcing the Jews out of the country as long as they could not produce evidence of possessing appropriate wealth. The General Ordinance on the Jews (General-Judenreglement) of April 17, 1797 divided all Jews into those ''protected''( Schutzuden), who were obliged to know the German language and possess a sufficient amount of wealth, and those who were merely ''tolerated''.
This ordinance limited the rights of Jews to settle in the countryside. It also ordered the removal from the area those Jews who could not prove that they had resided in a given town in the territory of the partition zone at the time when this territory had been annexed to Prussia. The same regulations were introduced in the Grand Duchy of Poznan which had been part of the Duchy of Warsaw before the former was joined to Prussia.
Equal rights for all Jews came in 1848, when the differences between the two categories of Jews were abolished. Later, in 1850 , Jews were given the same rights as the remaining subjects of the king of Prussia. It should be added incidentally that the legislation which accorded certain privileges to those Jews who spoke German was conducive to assimilation. On the other hand, a large number of those who could not speak German, had to leave the country.
The constitution of the Duchy of Warsaw, by abolishing differences between the estates, introduced formal equality of all citizens. In spite of this, it provided for a number of restrictions in relation to Jews. For example they were forbidden to work in certain occupations and the granting of full rights to them was made dependent on their cultural and traditional assimilation. The Jewish question became the subject of extensive discussion. Some authors accused them of selling cheap, poor quality products. To this the outstanding economist, Wawrzyniec Surowiecki (1769-1827) replied: ''It is not the fault of the merchant or the craftsman that he supplies the country with this sort [of goods], but it is the result of the poverty and misery of the inhabitants who can afford nothing better. Were this sentence not true in relation to Poland, the Jews, together with their humble goods, would have soon gone bankrupt.'' In such discussions one could easily discern interests of the burghers who were afraid of competition from Jewish merchants and craftsmen and therefore were in favor of restrictive measures against the Jews.
The overwhelming majority of Jews in the Duchy of Warsaw were poor and made their living from petty trade and crafts. Only some succeeded in accumulating wealth. Of the latter, the leading place undoubtedly goes to the family of Samuel Zbitkover (1756-1801) who laid the foundations of his fortune in the final years of the Commonwealth when he was engaged in provisioning the army. Then there was also the banker Samuel Kronenberg whose son would play an important role in the country's economic and political life.
The Congress of Vienna of 1815 created from part of the Duchy of Warsaw a new political entity-the constitutional Kingdom of Poland (also known as Congress Poland), with the Russian tsar as its king. Although the constitution provided for equality of all citizens, this referred only to Christians while Jews were deprived of both citizenship, and civil rights. The legal norms from the period of the Duchy of Warsaw were kept in force. Jews were not subject to duty in the army services but instead they were burdened with heavy taxes. In cities the Jewish population had no municipal rights. Only limited forms of Jewish self-government were preserved. From the highly complex system of autonomous self-governing organizations of Jewish society in old Poland, only the lowest rung, the community, was left. In 1821 new regulations replaced the former kahal boards with new prayer-house supervisory bodies. The latter's terms of reference were limited only to religious matters and charity campaigns. They were also entrusted with certain administrative functions, for example the collecting of recruitment taxes.
Important changes, connected with the process of social differentiation, took place within Jewish society. This process. took on a particularly clear-cut form in the country's capital, Warsaw, where there arose a group of rich business owners and numerous intelligentsia, the latter composed for the most part of representatives of the professions (doctors, lawyers) as well as artists and booksellers, since Jews were not employed in public offices and institutions. These groups kept in touch with the corresponding Polish groups and took an active part in the country's intellectual life and political movements. Gradually they also came closer to the Polish forms of dress, customs and language. They began to aspire to full citizens' rights and emancipation and the transformation of the Jewish community as a whole. They sought ways of reforming the traditional customs, adapting the various religious requirements and prescriptions to the conditions of contemporary life and freeing themselves from the domination of the intolerant, and sometimes downright primitive, orthodox circles. Jewish youth formed secret societies collaborating with their Polish counterparts in clandestine educational and political work.
The November Insurrection of 1830-31 did not change the legal status of the Jews. The conservative leaders of the insurrection did not plan very progressive reforms in any field of social life. Nevertheless since Jews in Warsaw shared the national liberation aims of the insurrection, in early 1831 small groups of the richest Jewish sections were allowed to join the National Guards. Representatives of the petite bourgeoisie could enlist in the Municipal Guards while the proletariat joined the Security Guards.
After the collapse of the November Insurrection the first steps were taken to introduce into the Kingdom of Poland the same rights as those binding in the rest of the Russian Empire in relation to Jews. Also in this field the Russian authorities attempted to blur out the differences between the Polish partition zone and the rest of Russia, although the administrative separateness of the Kingdom of Poland and its self-governing bodies were preserved for the time being. The national authorities opposed unification attempts and tried to keep in force separate laws for the Jews. On the other hand progressive circles were preparing projects for granting Jews equal rights. The latter attempts corresponded to those represented by the progressive enlightened Jewish circles. It is true that arguments and discussions did not produce any direct effect in the form of new laws, but they promoted cooperation between those Jewish and Polish circles who wanted the abolition of legal and economic elements of the feudal system which still prevailed in the Kingdom of Poland. Next to the enfranchisement of the peasants, the most important question was the granting of equal rights to the Jews.
Political movements became particularly active in 1861. Young Jews joined the various underground circles which arose in many towns. In summer news reached Poland about the death of two outstanding and much esteemed Polish emigration leaders, Joachim Lelewel (1786-1861) and Prince Adam Czartoryski (1770-1861). Prayers in commemoration of these two famous Poles were held in churches with the participation of Jews and in synagogues with the participation of Poles. Joint manifestations were organized on anniversaries of important historic events. The famous rabbi Dov Berush Meisels (1798-1870), who had moved from Krakow to Warsaw, proclaimed the brotherhood of Poles and Jews.
The right to vote was granted to all male citizens over 25 years of age who could speak and write Polish, irrespective of religion, but with a qualification that the voter must own property. Through these changes Jews were allowed to take part in elections on an equal footing with the rest of society. Jewish representatives were elected to local self-governing bodies.
In the autumn of 1861 further demonstrations took place. For example on October10th, during the funeral of Archbishop Antoni Fijalkowski (1778-1861), three graduates of the Warsaw rabbinical school unfurled the Polish banner. Patriotic manifestations with the participation of Jews were held also in other towns. The Russian authorities decided to approve the principles of reform of the legal status of Jews, which had been prepared by the autonomous organs of the Kingdom of Poland. On June 5th 1862 the decree introducing equal rights in many important fields was announced. Thus the road to gradual emancipation was opened.
Since the most politically-minded Jewish circles considered the changes as their victory, they supported the January Insurrection of 1863. Several months after the outbreak of the insurrection, the insurrectionary National Government proclaimed full equality of rights for Jews in Poland. Jews found themselves in the ranks of insurrectionary armies and also among the leaders of the insurrection. The well-known banker and industrialist, Leopold Kronenberg (1812-78), who had wide-ranging contacts in European banking circles, organized the insurrection's finances. The fall of the insurrection, however, crushed hopes and destroyed the reforms of the National Government.
The progress which took place in introducing equal rights for Jews in the 1860's favored the development of transformations in consciousness in cultural and political life. In the second half of the 19th century, new political currents took shape. They had their supporters not only among the relatively limited wealthy social strata and intelligentsia, but also among the masses of the population.
In the previous decades a movement aimed at the emancipation of Jews had developed. One important component of it was making Jews similar in dress and customs to their Polish surroundings and animating their intellectual life. Some of the leading representatives of this movement gradually became assimilated into Polish society. For them assimilation was the aim to which Jewish society as a whole should aspire. Though they preserved their links with their old circles, their children considered themselves, and were considered by others, to be Poles. These sections of Jewish society produced many families which played an important role in Polish culture, for example the Slonimskis, Natansons and Toeplitzs.
The program of assimilation found it hard to reach to the masses of the population, one of the reasons being that the latter had no access to schools other than religious ones and had no conditions for mastering the Polish language and adopting different customs. What is more, after the basic premises of emancipation were won, the program of assimilation ceased to be considered as the only way to social emancipation. Other political concepts appealed to the masses much more.
Towards the end of the 19th century another factor also emerged. Throughout Europe a wave of nationalism, directed above all against the Jews, swelled. France saw the Dreyfus case in 1894, in Czechoslovakia there was the Hilsner case in 1899 and in Russia the Beylis case in 1913. In Germany Richard Wagner wrote: ''The liberation from the yoke of Judaism is for us the supreme necessity.'' In the Kingdom of Poland this current was represented by Roman Dmowski (1864- 1939) and the National Democratic Party created by him.
The medium for anti-Semitic sentiments was the growing rivalry among the petite bourgeoisie. In Warsaw and other towns appeals to boycott Jewish shops appeared and instances of raids on Jewish shops were noted. The writer and journalist Leo Belmont (1862-1941) wrote: ''In some shops the eloquent notice 'Christian shop' appeared in accordance with the recommendation of Mr. Roman Dmowski who is the author of a new commentary to the Gospels, namely that Christ cleansed the Temple of the Jewish money-lenders only in order to bring the Polish tradesmen in there.'' And although the progressive Polish circles opposed such tendencies, they could do nothing to prevent them. This situation contributed to the defeat of the assimilation movement as the political concept which would help Jews win for themselves mass influence in society.
The difficult economic situation, discrimination practiced by the Russian authorities and finally the emergence of anti-Semitism gave rise to Jewish emigration. They departed for some West European countries but above all for the United States. In most cases, however, they preserved strong sentimental links with their home country.
Towards the end of the 19th century, among the Jewish proletariat, some groups of the impoverished petite bourgeoisie and part of the intelligentsia, great influence was exerted by the ideologies of the workers' parties. Later a Zionist movement emerged and finally the conservative movement took on organized forms. Other groups and movements had much lesser influence.
The above mentioned political and ideological movements were not fully uniform. The workers' parties were divided as far as their strategies and tactics were concerned. Also, in addition to organizations which accepted members irrespective of nationality, there were some which had a powerful national character. Among the Jewish proletariat strong influence was exerted by the Jewish socialist Bund party formed at a secret meeting in Vilna in 1897. The Bund members proclaimed that it was possible to solve the social and nationality problems of the Jews in their countries of residence, that is also in Polish territories. Considerable influence was also won by the party called Po'alei Zion (Workers of Zion) divided into a left and right wing. Many Jews were members of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania. Within the Polish Socialist Party a Jewish Organization existed which produced many outstanding leaders.
The workers' movement aimed at the solution of nationality problems through the transformation of the existing social system and the liquidation of exploitation of man by man which was inherent in the capitalist system. A different stand was taken by the Zionist movement which put to the fore the nationality question. It maintained that this question could not be solved by way of cooperation of working people irrespective of their nationality. It treated the nationality conflicts as an unavoidable phenomenon and saw the only hope in the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The realization of this goal was to be the main task of each Jew, although it was also necessary to defend one's interests within the country of residence. The Zionist movement, too, was divided as regards concepts concerning its strategy and tactics.
For the conservatives, the most important problem was the preservation of tradition identified with religion and the scrupulous observance of customs. This was accompanied by considerable indifference towards other matters. In relation to authorities their program principle was the attitude of loyalty, and thus they proclaimed full obedience to state laws. Thus far they had not formed their own political organization and their influence was based on the authority of the zaddikim and the faithful Hasidim who formed their courts.
In 1918 some groups of the Jewish population, especially the conservative circles which maintained a detached attitude in relation to problems which did not concern the Jews directly, took a position of neutrality and expectation on the question of the rebirth of the Polish state. Some were afraid of any change since-as the experience of many generations had taught them-changes usually brought disaster in their wake. This opinion seemed to be justified in view of the anti-Jewish riots and raids which took place in some parts of the country, although the real significance of these events must not be overestimated. They were caused by conflicts of a social and economic nature between the merchant stratum and its customers from small towns and the countryside. In other instances these were simply criminal offenses, for example in Lvov where the pogroms in the Jewish streets were the work of criminals released from prisons.
The conservatives, represented by the orthodox party Agudat Israel, which was founded in Poland in 1916, declared their loyalty to the Polish state shortly after its government was constituted. On the other hand representatives of other directions, especially the socialist organizations and their like, very often demonstrated their positive attitude to the independence of Poland and also took an active part in the struggle for liberation. Jews found themselves in the ranks of the Legions organized by Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935) and also in other volunteer formations which proclaimed the program of independent Poland.
Such attitude to the approaching transformations was connected with the conviction-maintained by both the Polish and Jewish masses-that the re-emergent Polish state would have a truly democratic character and thus would bring a solution of the urgent social and political problems and become a state of social justice for the working people.
Poland emerged as a bourgeois republic under the influence of the great revolutionary movement which swept the whole of Eastern and Central Europe in the years 1917-19. Although the reborn state did not solve the basic economic and social questions, its legislation granted equal rights to all citizens irrespective of nationality and religious convictions. This was guaranteed by its constitution adopted by the Sejm in March 1921 . Thus were abolished the legal norms inherited from the partitioning powers, which gave different legal status to various groups of society. However some questions as laid down in the constitution lent themselves to various interpretations. In 1931 the Sejm passed a law which abrogated expressis verbis all regulations which were discriminatory on grounds of religion, nationality and race. In this respect independent Poland fulfilled the people's hopes.
The matter was different in the field of economic relations. In the inter-war period Poland found herself in an extremely difficult situation. Leaving aside the fluctuations of economic development experienced by all capitalist countries (a particularly deep drop in production, employment and incomes was noted in the first half of the 1930's), the average increase in the number of places of work was far behind the population growth. Overpopulation of the countryside became more acute, which in turn brought about the shrinking of the internal market and the resultant impoverishment of petty tradesmen and craftsmen. Unemployment in towns took on catastrophic dimensions. In these circumstances, especially in the 1930's, the pauperization of those strata which earned their living from small shops increased. Economists spoke of the overcrowding of trade and crafts.
According to the 1931 census of the nearly 32 million Polish citizens, 10 per cent (or some three million) were Jews. Of this figure 42 per cent worked in industry, mining and crafts and 36 per cent in trade and kindred branches. Other occupations played a lesser role in the Jews, occupational structure. In some branches of the economy Jews constituted a majority. This concerned above all the retail trade where 71 per cent of all tradesmen were Jewish. In the clothing and leather industry this percentage was almost 50. Typical Jewish occupations were tailoring and shoemaking. However in the conditions of massive unemployment, in spite of the over abundance of certain specialties in crafts, they had no chance of finding employment. At the same time there was a growth in the number of merchants and craftsmen of other nationalities. In the countryside, the expanding cooperative movement became a serious rival to the private merchants.
It would be wrong to assume that the concentration of Jews in certain branches of the economy and their pauperization were the result of a deliberate policy on the part of the state. It is true that the administration was unfavorably disposed towards employing other than Polish nationals in state enterprises, especially those of military importance (for example railways and armaments factories) and therefore removed Jews from these establishments. However, the direct reason for anti-Jewish discrimination has to be sought in the past, in the relations which had been formed in the period of the partitions. The overcoming of the traditional occupational and social structure of the Jewish community could be accomplished only by the acceleration of the economic development of the country as a whole and also by the creation of conditions favoring the acquiring of new trades which had not been popular among the Jewish community. This problem was also perceived by some Jewish organizations which undertook actions aimed at training young people in various specialties. This was done most often by the Zionist organizations which in connection with their Palestinian plans attempted to prepare groups of settlers having definite trades. However the scope of this action was very modest indeed since it depended on winning financial means as well as those willing to go to Palestine. Similar undertakings could not be carried out on a mass scale without appropriate assistance from the state in a situation where the government found it difficult to acquire sufficient financial resources for the most urgent needs. What is more, even if money had been available, the specialists trained in this way would not have been able to find employment anyway.
The same objective reasons made it impossible to overcome the concentration of Jewish laborers in small enterprises and workshops, while it should be borne in mind that over 70 per cent of the Jewish urban proletariat were employed in such small establishments.
This adverse situation was also affected by some traditional customs and religion. Since Jews observed Sabbath, it was difficult to employ in one enterprise both Jewish and Christian workers without disorganizing the rhythm of production. Even Jewish entrepreneurs unwillingly employed a Jewish labor force. Of course not all of them were Orthodox Jews and not all of them refused to work on Saturdays. However those who wanted to work on Saturdays were treated with suspicion by their employers who feared lest they belonged to a socialist or communist organization and one day might organize the factory work force in struggle for their interests. In smaller establishments, in which the owner himself took part in both the production process and management, work on Saturdays was suspended.
The Jewish question in inter-war Poland was above all a social problem. Without solving the problems which were common to all working people, there was no chance of changing the lot of the Polish Jews. And the capitalist system provided no prospect of a radical overcoming of backwardness and increasing the number of jobs, despite efforts on the part of the state undertaken in particular in the second half of the 1930's.
Thus emigration continued. There are no exhaustive data on this subject. However, it is known that between 1927 and 1938 nearly 200,000 Polish Jews left Poland, of which number 74,000 went to Palestine, 34,000 to Argentina and 28,000 to the United States. The largest waves of emigration were recorded in the 1920's. Following the great slump, after 1929, those countries which up till then accepted immigrants, introduced new, ever more severe restrictions on immigration. This concerned, among other countries, the United States. For this reason in the 1930's overseas emigration limited in scope while the number of those going to Palestine increased. According to the most reliable calculations, between 1919 and 1942 almost 140,000 Polish Jews went to Palestine, that is, some 42 per cent of the total number of immigrants accepted by that country; the largest intensification of Palestine-bound emigration took place in the years 1933-36 when the number of emigrants amounted to 75,000.
In the difficult economic situation and the changes in legal and political status of Jews after Poland had regained her independence, various programs of activity were formed. The traditional program of the Agudat Israel, which boiled down to the observance of religious prescriptions, loyalty towards the state and the expectation of the Kingdom of God, could not suffice. Although the position of this party among the petite bourgeoisie was maintained by the authority of the zaddikim (a particularly important role in the leadership of the Agudat Israel was played by the famous zaddik of Gora Kalwaria who was however criticized by many), its attempts at consolidating a specific kind of ideological ghetto (the isolation of the Jews from the goyim) resulted in a gradual decrease of its influence. Step by step the party moved towards the acceptance of the prospect of building a Jewish state in Palestine.
On the other hand, the influence of the workers' parties continued to be strong. The most important role was still played by the Bund, some concepts of which were close to those of the radical left wing, though its members represented a whole variety of views. The Bund differed from the program put forward by the communists in that it demanded cultural and national autonomy for national minorities, especially for the Jews, and perceived the necessity of organizing the whole of the Jewish proletariat in one, separate national party. Many Bund leaders saw the need for dictatorship by the proletariat (the Bund program adopted in 1930 mentioned the possibility of such dictatorship). The party was decidedly opposed to the conservatives and discarded religion. It accused the Agudat Israel of defending the interests of the propertied classes to the detriment of the needs of the masses. The most outstanding leaders of the Bund were Victor Alter (1890-1941), Henryk Erlich (1882- 1941) and Samuel Zygelbojm (1895-1943).
The Bund, like the illegal Communist Party of Poland to which many Jews also belonged and the Polish Socialist Party, saw the only chance of solving the Jewish question in Poland in building a socialist society without man's exploitation by man. It sought its allies among workers of all nationalities living in Poland. It opposed all concepts of emigration since it perceived the impracticability of the idea of organizing emigration of a several million strong nation. The socialist leaders considered the Palestinian campaign to be an element weakening the forces of the proletariat fighting for a change in social relations and as a solution which at best could constitute a chance for only few.
A radical social program was also voiced by the left wing of the Po'alei Zion which saw prospects for the Jews in a socialist revolution and in introducing cultural and national autonomy. For the future, it accepted the idea of building a socialist Jewish state in Palestine and therefore it supported the Palestinian campaigns. Its leading members were Antoni Budhsbaum, Szachna Sagan and Jozef Witkin-Zerubavel (1876-1912). A much smaller following was enjoyed by the right wing of the Po'alei Zion which concentrated above all on Palestinian works, that is all activity aimed at forming. a future Jewish state, including education of qualified farmers, workers and soldiers.
All the workers, organizations, irrespective of the differences that separated them, cooperated in many important issues. They undertook a common struggle against campaigns organized by the right wing of the National Democratic Party. In Warsaw they even formed an underground organization the task of which was to put up armed resistance to the nationalist militants. Both Jews and Poles connected with the workers, movement took part in its work.
Different views were voiced by Zionist organizations which saw the Jews, future exclusively in emigration and in building their own state. The Palestinian works became the most important aim while current issues of political life were relegated to the background, though they were not totally neglected.
After Poland regained her independence, the most important organization was the Zionist Organization in Poland composed of three regional branches (for the former Austrian partition zone, eastern Galicia and western Galicia). Its members represented various views which in later years resulted in its break-up and the formation of a splinter group known as Zionist Revisionists who set up the New Zionist Organization. Among the leading activists of the Zionist movement mention is due above all to Rabbi Osias (Jehoshua) Thon (1870 - 1936), Emil Sommerstein (1883- 1957), Henryk Rosmaryn (1882-1955), all representing the Et Livnot wing, and Yizhak Gruenbaum (1879-1970), the magnificent orator, for many years Sejm deputy from the Al ha-Mishmar wing.
Zionism was strongly opposed to both the workers, and conservative movements. The latter accused them of profaning religious tradition because in the future Jewish state the language of everyday use was to be Hebrew, the language of the holy books. The other political groups generally considered Yiddish to be the language of everyday use.
It is only an apparent paradox that the Zionist movement found support in Poland's nationalist circles. In the 1930's government circles granted it some assistance, especially to the radical group of the Zionist Revisionists who were ready to win an independent Jewish state in armed struggle. The plane on which agreement was reached was the question of emigration. For the Polish government saw no chances of solving the country's social problems with the use of its own resources and wanted to stimulate the emigration of the most impoverished sections which were the heaviest burden on the labor market. In the second half of the 1930,s another factor was added to this. From the National Democratic Party, the Sanacja government-the political camp which wielded dictatorial power in Poland at the time-adopted some of its ideas an tried to induce emigration first of all of national minorities .
An important arena of struggle among various political groups active among the Jews were the religious communities. The community was in principle a religious institution derived from the synagogue supervisors established in the former Russian partition zone. The principles of activity of the communities were laid down in a decree of 1927 which was binding in all of Poland with the exception of Silesia. By law, each community encompassed all followers of Judaism who lived in its area of operation. Obviously unbelievers were allowed to leave this organization and thus relinquish both the duties and the rights which were binding on its members. However, in fact only a few did that.
According to the above mentioned decree, the terms of reference of the community included the maintenance of the rabbinate, the buildings and facilities which served religious needs and cemeteries, the supervision of religious instruction of their youth, the provision of kosher meat to the faithful, the administration of the community's property and funds and dispensing of charities. The sphere of activity thus defined went beyond the limits of purely religious ministrations. The management of funds and assistance to the poor were after all of basic importance, especially in the years of economic crisis. The authorities of the community were thus responsible not only for satisfying religious needs but also for social policy. For these reasons the Jewish communities aroused interest in some political parties.
Traditionally the community boards were dominated by the Agudat Israel. However as early as the 1920's, especially in large industrial centers, the Bund and the Zionists were also represented on these bodies. During the elections held in the spring of 1931, those groups challenged the orthodox factions since they saw the possibility of transforming the denominational institutions into a kind of cultural and national self-government. In this conflict, representatives of the Agudat Israel resorted to various abuses of electoral regulations, such as depriving their opponents of the right to vote on the accusation that they were acting against the religion. They also used the assistance of administrative bodies which were afraid lest the denominational self-government might become in time a political institution. The opponents of the conservatives quite rightly maintained that in many communities the latter neglected the needs of the working masses and even accused them of corrupt practices.
The second half of the 1930's brought many phenomena which intensified emigration sentiments among the Polish Jews. The country's economic situation did not promise any improvement, while emigration could facilitate the gaining of means of subsistence. Some young Zionists grew impatient since the longed-for proclamation of a Jewish state did not materialize. Violent acts committed by the National Democrats became more frequent, despite opposition on the part of progressive organizations and many outstanding scholars. However in practice in many universities the nationalists succeeded in introducing various regulations which were aimed against students of Jewish origin (not only those who considered themselves to be Jewish). Some municipal authorities passed regulations discriminating against the Jews though formally in accord with the existing legislation. There were cases of groups of militants beating up professors (for example Professors Edward Lipiriski and Tadeusz Kotarbinski) who were opposed to anti-Semitism. There were also instances of pogroms in small towns where the mob, incited by the nationalists and composed mainly of criminal elements, robbed and demolished Jewish booths and shops and maltreated their owners. Assistance from the workers could not always stop the attackers. The government took an equivocal stand in this matter. Though it condemned pogroms, yet at the same time Prime Minister Felicjan Slawoj Skladkowski (1885-1962) declared in the Sejm: ''Economic boycott? That's right!'' The Church condemned such excesses, but simultaneously well-known journalists writing for Catholic journals advised Christians to stay apart from the Jews.
Of great importance were the events in Germany. After Hitler took power, mass persecutions of Jews started, among whom there were also some 50,000 Polish subjects living in Germany. This resulted in official protests from the Polish consulates and embassy which took various steps to help the persecuted. However, the Polish authorities were afraid that this persecution would reduce the Polish Jews living in Germany to such poverty that they would be forced to return to Poland where they would not find any means of subsistence. Many employees of the Polish consulates-as reports sent to Warsaw indicate-intervened on behalf of Jews for purely humanitarian reasons, since they wanted, at least to some degree, to alleviate the difficult situation of the persecuted Jews.
These interventions stopped the Third Reich from applying against the Polish Jews all repressive measures which were used against the German citizens of Jewish origin. However nothing could change radically the situation of Polish Jews in Germany. In the years 1938-39 more and more often Polish Jews, leaving behind all their property, were hurried across the border to Poland under threat of death. Particularly harsh measures were applied in the last days of October 1938 when some 13,000 were forced in this way out of Germany (according to data of the Polish consulates). For several days the victims stayed in the open air, between the two border points, before they were allowed back to Poland. Here, having no means of subsistence, they waited for many weeks in transit camps near the border.
All these events made the picture of the future really gloomy. Poland faced a direct danger. Those who were preparing for departure from Poland had one more reason for doing so. The others, the overwhelming majority, who had no such possibility nor wished to leave Poland which they considered their motherland, awaited anxiously what the future had in store for them.
In the face of threat from the Third Reich the
Jewish community in Poland demonstrated great self-sacrifice in the cause
of defending the Republic. They contributed to the state loan for defensive
purposes and collected funds for the army. This sacrifice manifested itself
also during September 1939. The outstanding scholar Emanuel Ringelblum
wrote the following about the sentiments prevailing then in Warsaw: ''The
Warsaw Jews were overcome with enthusiasm which recalled the year 1861,
the era of fraternity., During the siege of Warsaw, Jewish organizations
took an active part in civil defense and assistance to victims. The historian
Bernard Mark recalls an unusual demonstration of Jews through the streets
of Warsaw: ''In the first line there marched five well-known rabbis in
long, silk black coats and sable hats... They were followed by students
of the rabbinical college, each carrying a spade on his shoulders.'' Many
Jews helped to dig earthworks even on holiday, Saturday. Others took up
arms and fought the common enemy. The defeat of the Polish army in the
September campaign opened a new, tragic period in the common history of
Jews and Poles.
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