History of the Jews in Poland
|Zivia Lubetkin • Stanisław Ulam • Alfred Tarski|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Poland||30,000+ (~12,000 in registered communities) |
|Israel||1,250,000 (ancestry, passport eligible); 202,300 (citizenship)|
|Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Polish Jews, Russian Jews, Jews, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Ukrainian Jews|
|Part of a series of articles on the|
|History of Judaism
|Timeline of Jewish Polish history|
|History of the Jews in Poland|
|List of Polish Jews|
|Part of a series on|
|Jews and Judaism|
The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the Partitions of Poland which began in 1772, in particular, with the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire. During World War II there was a nearly complete genocidal destruction of the Polish Jewish community by Nazi Germany, during the 1939–1945 German occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust. Since the fall of communism there has been a Jewish revival in Poland, characterized by the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new study programmes at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues such as the Nozyk, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
From the founding of the Kingdom of Poland in 1025 through to the early years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created in 1569, Poland was the most tolerant country in Europe. Known as paradisus Iudaeorum (Latin for "Paradise for the Jews"), it became a shelter for persecuted and expelled European Jewish communities and the home to the world's largest Jewish community of the time. According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century. With the weakening of the Commonwealth and growing religious strife (due to the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation), Poland’s traditional tolerance began to wane from the 17th century onward. After the partitions of Poland in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state, Polish Jews were subject to the laws of the partitioning powers, the increasingly antisemitic Russian Empire, as well as Austro-Hungary and Kingdom of Prussia (later a part of the German Empire). Still, as Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I, it was the center of the European Jewish world with one of world's largest Jewish communities of over 3 million. Antisemitism, however, from both the political establishment and from the general population, common throughout Europe, was a growing problem.
At the start of World War II, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (see Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). The war resulted in the death of one-fifth of the Polish population, with 90% or about 3 million of Polish Jewry killed along with approximately 3 million Polish non-Jews. Although the Holocaust occurred largely in German occupied Poland there was little collaboration with the Nazis by its citizens. Collaboration by individual Poles has been described as smaller than in other occupied countries. Statistics of the Israeli War Crimes Commission indicate that less than 0.1% of Polish gentiles collaborated with the Nazis. Examples of Polish gentile attitudes to German atrocities varied widely, from actively risking death in order to save Jewish lives, and passive refusal to inform on them; to indifference, blackmail, and in extreme cases, participation in pogroms such as the Jedwabne massacre. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
In the postwar period, many of the approximately 200,000 Jewish survivors registered at CKŻP (of whom 136,000 arrived from the Soviet Union) left the Communist People's Republic of Poland for the nascent State of Israel and North or South America. Their departure was hastened by the destruction of Jewish institutions, post-war violence and the hostility of the Communist Party to both religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946–1947 Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah to Israel, without visas or exit permits. Britain demanded from Poland to halt the exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. Most of the remaining Jews left Poland in late 1968 as the result of the Soviet-sponsored "anti-Zionist" campaign. After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the situation of Polish Jews became normalized and those who were Polish citizens before World War II were allowed to renew Polish citizenship. Religious institutions were revived, largely through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States. The contemporary Polish Jewish community is estimated to have approximately 20,000 members, though the actual number of Jews, including those who are not actively connected to Judaism or Jewish culture, may be several times larger.
- 1 Early history to Golden Age: 966–1572
- 2 The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 1572–1795
- 3 The development of Judaism in Poland and the Commonwealth
- 4 Jews of Poland within the Russian Empire (1795–1918)
- 5 Interwar period 1918–1939
- 6 World War II and the destruction of Polish Jewry (1939–45)
- 7 Communist rule: 1945–1989
- 8 Since 1989
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 Notes
- 14 External links
Early history to Golden Age: 966–1572
Early history: 966–1385
Historically, Jews were thought to have originated from the Israelite tribes of the Middle East. Initially, large numbers moved to Italy, France, and Germany in the early 4th century. Afterwards, due to various pogroms that took place during the Middle Ages, they fled mostly to Poland and Lithuania, and from there spread over the rest of Eastern Europe.
The first Jews arrived in the territory of modern Poland in the 10th century. By travelling along the trade routes leading eastwards to Kiev and Bukhara, Jewish merchants (known as Radhanites) crossed the areas of Silesia. One of them, a diplomat and merchant from the Moorish town of Tortosa in Spanish Al-Andalus, known under his Arabic name of Ibrahim ibn Jakub, was the first chronicler to mention the Polish state under the rule of prince Mieszko I. The first actual mention of Jews in Polish chronicles occurs in the 11th century. It appears that Jews were then living in Gniezno, at that time the capital of the Polish kingdom of the Piast dynasty. The first permanent Jewish community is mentioned in 1085 by a Jewish scholar Jehuda ha-Kohen in the city of Przemyśl.
The first extensive Jewish emigration from Western Europe to Poland occurred at the time of the First Crusade in 1098. Under Bolesław III (1102–1139), the Jews, encouraged by the tolerant regime of this ruler, settled throughout Poland, including over the border in Lithuanian territory as far as Kiev. Bolesław III for his part recognized the utility of the Jews in the development of the commercial interests of his country. The Jews came to form the backbone of the Polish economy and the coins minted by Mieszko III even bear Hebraic markings. Jews enjoyed undisturbed peace and prosperity in the many principalities into which the country was then divided; they formed the middle class in a country where the general population consisted of landlords (developing into szlachta, the unique Polish nobility) and peasants, and they were instrumental in promoting the commercial interests of the land.
Another factor for the Jews to emigrate to Poland was the Megdeburg Recht, or Megdeburg Law, a charter given to the Jews, among others, that specifically outlined the rights and privileges that Jews had coming into Poland. For example, they could define their neighborhoods and economic competitors, and set up monopolies. This was very attractive to Jewish communities to pick up and move to Poland.
The tolerant situation was gradually altered by the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand, and by the neighboring German states on the other. There were, however, among the reigning princes some determined protectors of the Jewish inhabitants, who considered the presence of the latter most desirable as far as the economic development of the country was concerned. Prominent among such rulers was Bolesław the Pious of Kalisz, Prince of Great Poland. With the consent of the class representatives and higher officials, in 1264 he issued a General Charter of Jewish Liberties, the Statute of Kalisz, which granted all Jews the freedom of worship, trade and travel. During the next hundred years, the Church pushed for the persecution of the Jews while the rulers of Poland usually protected them.
In 1332, King Casimir III the Great (1303–1370) amplified and expanded Bolesław's old charter with the Wiślicki Statute. Casimir, who according to a legend had a Jewish lover named Esterka from Opoczno was especially friendly to the Jews, and his reign is regarded as an era of great prosperity for Polish Jewry, and was nicknamed by his contemporaries "King of the serfs and Jews." Under penalty of death, he prohibited the kidnapping of Jewish children for the purpose of enforced Christian baptism. He inflicted heavy punishment for the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Nevertheless, while for the greater part of Casimir’s reign the Jews of Poland enjoyed tranquility, toward its close they were subjected to persecution on account of the Black Death. In 1348, the first blood libel accusation against Jews in Poland was recorded, and in 1367 the first pogrom took place in Poznań (Posen). Compared with the pitiless destruction of their co-religionists in Western Europe, however, the Polish Jews did not fare badly; and the Jewish masses of Germany fled to the more hospitable cities in Poland.
The early Jagiellon era: 1385–1505
As a result of the marriage of Wladislaus II (Jagiełło) to Jadwiga, daughter of Louis I of Hungary, Lithuania was united with the kingdom of Poland. In 1388–1389, broad privileges were extended to Lithuanian Jews including freedom of religion and commerce on equal terms with the Christians. Under the rule of Wladislaus II, Polish Jews had increased in numbers and attained prosperity. However, religious persecution gradually increased, as the dogmatic clergy pushed for less official tolerance, pressured by the Synod of Constance. There were accusations of blood libel by the priests, and new riots against the Jews in Poznań in 1399. Accusations of blood libel by another fanatic priest led to the riots in Kraków in 1407, although the royal guard hastened to the rescue. Hysteria caused by Black Death led to additional 14th-century outbreaks of violence against the Jews in Kalisz, Kraków and Bochnia. Traders and artisans jealous of Jewish prosperity, and fearing their rivalry, supported the harassment.
The decline in the status of the Jews was briefly checked by Casimir IV the Jagiellonian (1447–1492), but soon the nobility forced him to issue the Statute of Nieszawa. Among other things it abolished the ancient privileges of the Jews "as contrary to divine right and the law of the land." Nevertheless, the king continued to offer his protection to the Jews. Two years later Casimir issued another document announcing that he could not deprive the Jews of his benevolence on the basis of "the principle of tolerance which in conformity with God's laws obliged him to protect them". The policy of the government toward the Jews of Poland oscillated under Casimir's sons and successors, John I Olbracht (1492–1501) and Alexander the Jagiellonian (1501–1506). The latter expelled the Jews from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1495 when he was the Grand Duke of Lithuania but reversed the law in 1503 shortly after becoming King of Poland. A year later he issued a proclamation in which he stated that a policy of tolerance befitted "kings and rulers".
Center of the Jewish world: 1505–72
Alexander became more tolerant just as the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, as well as from Austria, Hungary and Germany, thus stimulating Jewish immigration to the much more tolerant Poland. Indeed, with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Poland became the recognized haven for exiles from Western Europe; and the resulting accession to the ranks of Polish Jewry made it the cultural and spiritual center of the Jewish people.
The most prosperous period for Polish Jews began following this new influx of Jews with the reign of Zygmunt I (1506–1548), who protected the Jews in his realm. His son, Zygmunt II August (1548–1572), mainly followed in the tolerant policy of his father and also granted autonomy to the Jews in the matter of communal administration and laid the foundation for the power of the Qahal, or autonomous Jewish community. This period led to the creation of a proverb about Poland being a "heaven for the Jews". According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century. In the middle of the 16th century, Poland welcomed the Jewish newcomers from Italy and Turkey, mostly of Sephardi origin. However, some of the immigrants from the Ottoman Empire are still considered Mizrahim. Jewish religious life thrived in many Polish communities. In 1503, the Polish monarchy appointed Rabbi Jacob Polak, the official Rabbi of Poland, marking the emergence of the Chief Rabbinate. By 1551, Jews were given permission to choose their own Chief Rabbi. The Chief Rabbinate held power over law and finance, appointing judges and other officials. Some power was shared with local councils. The Polish government permitted the Rabbinate to grow in power, to use it for tax collection purposes. Only 30% of the money raised by the Rabbinate served Jewish causes, the rest went to the Crown for protection. In this period Poland-Lithuania became the main center for Ashkenazi Jewry and its yeshivot achieved fame from the early 16th century.
Moses Isserles (1520–1572), an eminent Talmudist of the 16th century, established his yeshiva in Kraków. In addition to being a renowned Talmudic and legal scholar, Isserles was also learned in Kabbalah, and studied history, astronomy, and philosophy. The Remuh Synagogue was built for him in 1557. Rema (רמ״א) is the Hebrew acronym for his name.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 1572–1795
The Warsaw Confederation
Following the childless death of Zygmunt II, the last king of the Jagiellon dynasty, Polish and Lithuanian nobles (szlachta) gathered at Warsaw in 1573 and signed a document of limited toleration in which representatives of all the major religions pledged each other mutual support and tolerance. The edict did not include the Polish Brethren, an anti-Trinitarian that would later become known as Socinians, who formed roots for the modern Unitarian church in the US.
The Cossack uprising and the Deluge
In 1648 the Commonwealth was devastated by several conflicts, in which the Commonwealth lost over a third of its population (over three million people), and Jewish losses were counted in the hundreds of thousands. The first of these large-scale riots was the Chmielnicki Uprising, in which Bohdan Khmelnytsky's Cossacks massacred tens of thousands of Jews and Catholic Poles in the eastern and southern areas he controlled (today's Ukraine). Khmelnytsky riled up the people by telling them that the Poles had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews". The precise number of dead may never be known, but the decrease of the Jewish population during that period is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000, which also includes emigration, deaths from diseases and jasyr (captivity in the Ottoman Empire). The Jewish community suffered greatly during the 1648 Cossack uprising which had been directed primarily against the Polish nobility. The Jews, perceived as allies of the nobles, were also victims of the revolt, during which about 20% of them were killed.
Then the incompetent politics of the elected kings of the House of Vasa brought the weakened state to its knees, as it was invaded by the Swedish Empire in what became known as The Deluge. The kingdom of Poland proper, which had hitherto suffered but little either from the Chmielnicki Uprising or from the recurring invasion of the Russians, Crimean Tatars and Ottomans, now became the scene of terrible disturbances (1655–1658). Charles X of Sweden, at the head of his victorious army, overran Poland; and soon the whole country, including the cities of Kraków and Warsaw, was in his hands. The Jews of Great and Little Poland found themselves torn between two sides: those of them who were spared by the Swedes were attacked by the Poles, who accused them of aiding the enemy. The Polish general Stefan Czarniecki, in his flight from the Swedes, devastated the whole country through which he passed and treated the Jews without mercy. The Polish partisan detachments treated the non-Polish inhabitants with equal severity. Moreover, the horrors of the war were aggravated by pestilence, and the Jews and townsfolk of the districts of Kalisz, Kraków, Poznań, Piotrków, and Lublin perished en masse by the sword of the besieging armies and the plague.
As soon as the disturbances had ceased, the Jews began to return and to rebuild their destroyed homes; and while it is true that the Jewish population of Poland had decreased and become impoverished, it still was more numerous than that of the Jewish colonies in Western Europe; and Poland remained as the spiritual center of Judaism, and through 1698, the Polish kings generally remained supportive of the Jews, despite a hostile clergy and nobility. It also should be noted that while Jewish losses in those events were high, estimated by some historians to be close to 500,000, the Commonwealth lost one third of its population — approximately three million of its citizens.
Decline under the Saxon dynasty
With the accession to the throne of the Saxon dynasty the Jews completely lost the support of the government. The szlachta and the townsfolk were increasingly hostile to the Jews, as the religious tolerance that dominated the mentality of the previous generations of Commonwealth citizens was slowly forgotten. In their intolerance, the citizens of the Commonwealth now approached the "standards" that dominated most of the contemporary European countries, and many Jews felt betrayed by the country they once viewed as their haven. In the larger cities, like Poznań and Kraków, quarrels between the Satins and the Jewish inhabitants were of frequent occurrence. Attacks on the Jews by students, the so-called Schüler-Gelauf, became everyday occurrences in the large cities, the police regarding such scholastic riots with indifference. In the 16th and 17th centuries Jews were expelled from a number of Polish cities, and victimized by pogroms usually organized by local merchants and artisans. By 1764, there were about 750,000 Jews in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The worldwide Jewish population was estimated at 1.2 million.
Disorder and anarchy reigned supreme in Poland during the second half of the 18th century, from the accession to the throne of its last king, Stanislaus II Augustus Poniatowski (1764–1795). In 1772, in the aftermath of the Confederation of Bar, the outlying provinces of Poland were divided among the three neighboring nations, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Jews were most numerous in the territories that fell to the lot of Austria and Russia.
The permanent council established at the instance of the Russian government (1773–1788) served as the highest administrative tribunal, and occupied itself with the elaboration of a plan that would make practicable the reorganization of Poland on a more rational basis. The progressive elements in Polish society recognized the urgency of popular education as the very first step toward reform. The famous Komisja Edukacji Narodowej ("Commission of National Education"), the first ministry of education in the world, was established in 1773 and founded numerous new schools and remodeled the old ones. One of the members of the commission, kanclerz Andrzej Zamoyski, along with others, demanded that the inviolability of their persons and property should be guaranteed and that religious toleration should be to a certain extent granted them; but he insisted that Jews living in the cities should be separated from the Christians, that those of them having no definite occupation should be banished from the kingdom, and that even those engaged in agriculture should not be allowed to possess land. On the other hand, some szlachta and intellectuals proposed a national system of government, of the civil and political equality of the Jews. This was the only example in modern Europe before the French Revolution of tolerance and broadmindedness in dealing with the Jewish question. But all these reforms were too late: a Russian army soon invaded Poland, and soon after a Prussian one followed.
A second partition of Poland was made on July 17, 1793. Jews, in a Jewish regiment led by Berek Joselewicz, took part in the Kościuszko Uprising the following year, when the Poles tried to again achieve independence, but were brutally put down. Following the revolt, the third and final partition of Poland took place in 1795. The great bulk of the Jewish population was transferred to Russia, and thus became subjects of that empire, although in the first half of the 19th century some semblance of a vastly smaller Polish state was preserved, especially in the form of the Congress Poland (1815–1831).
Jews were represented in the November Insurrection (1830–1831), the January Insurrection (1863), as well as in the revolutionary movement of 1905. Many Polish Jews were enlisted in the Legions, which fought for the Polish independence finally achieved in 1918.
The development of Judaism in Poland and the Commonwealth
The culture and intellectual output of the Jewish community in Poland had a profound impact on Judaism as a whole. Some Jewish historians have recounted that the word Poland is pronounced as Polania or Polin in Hebrew, and as transliterated into Hebrew, these names for Poland were interpreted as "good omens" because Polania can be broken down into three Hebrew words: po ("here"), lan ("dwells"), ya ("God"), and Polin into two words of: po ("here") lin ("[you should] dwell"). The "message" was that Poland was meant to be a good place for the Jews. During the time from the rule of Sigismund I the Old until the Nazi Holocaust, Poland would be at the center of Jewish religious life.
Yeshivot were established, under the direction of the rabbis, in the more prominent communities. Such schools were officially known as gymnasiums, and their rabbi principals as rectors. Important yeshivot existed in Kraków, Poznań, and other cities. Jewish printing establishments came into existence in the first quarter of the 16th century. In 1530 a Hebrew Pentateuch (Torah) was printed in Kraków; and at the end of the century the Jewish printing houses of that city and Lublin issued a large number of Jewish books, mainly of a religious character. The growth of Talmudic scholarship in Poland was coincident with the greater prosperity of the Polish Jews; and because of their communal autonomy educational development was wholly one-sided and along Talmudic lines. Exceptions are recorded, however, where Jewish youth sought secular instruction in the European universities. The learned rabbis became not merely expounders of the Law, but also spiritual advisers, teachers, judges, and legislators; and their authority compelled the communal leaders to make themselves familiar with the abstruse questions of Jewish law. Polish Jewry found its views of life shaped by the spirit of Talmudic and rabbinical literature, whose influence was felt in the home, in school, and in the synagogue.
In the first half of the 16th century the seeds of Talmudic learning had been transplanted to Poland from Bohemia, particularly from the school of Jacob Pollak, the creator of Pilpul ("sharp reasoning"). Shalom Shachna (c. 1500–1558), a pupil of Pollak, is counted among the pioneers of Talmudic learning in Poland. He lived and died in Lublin, where he was the head of the yeshivah which produced the rabbinical celebrities of the following century. Shachna's son Israel became rabbi of Lublin on the death of his father, and Shachna's pupil Moses Isserles (known as the ReMA) (1520–1572) achieved an international reputation among the Jews as the co-author of the Shulkhan Arukh, (the "Code of Jewish Law"). His contemporary and correspondent Solomon Luria (1510–1573) of Lublin also enjoyed a wide reputation among his co-religionists; and the authority of both was recognized by the Jews throughout Europe. Heated religious disputations were common, and Jewish scholars participated in them. At the same time, the Kabbalah had become entrenched under the protection of Rabbinism; and such scholars as Mordecai Jaffe and Yoel Sirkis devoted themselves to its study. This period of great Rabbinical scholarship was interrupted by the Chmielnicki Uprising and The Deluge.
The rise of Hasidism
The decade from the Cossacks' uprising until after the Swedish war (1648–1658) left a deep and lasting impression not only on the social life of the Polish-Lithuanian Jews, but on their spiritual life as well. The intellectual output of the Jews of Poland was reduced. The Talmudic learning which up to that period had been the common possession of the majority of the people became accessible to a limited number of students only. What religious study there was became overly formalized, some rabbis busied themselves with quibbles concerning religious laws; others wrote commentaries on different parts of the Talmud in which hair-splitting arguments were raised and discussed; and at times these arguments dealt with matters which were of no practical importance. At the same time, many miracle workers made their appearance among the Jews of Poland, culminating in a series of false "Messianic" movements, most famously as Sabbatianism was succeeded by Frankism.
In this time of mysticism and overly formal rabbinism came the teachings of Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov, or BeShT, (1698–1760), which had a profound effect on the Jews of Eastern Europe and Poland in particular. His disciples taught and encouraged the new fervent brand of Judaism based on Kabbalah known as Hasidism. The rise of Hasidic Judaism within Poland's borders and beyond had a great influence on the rise of Haredi Judaism all over the world, with a continuous influence through its many Hasidic dynasties including those of Chabad-Lubavitch, Aleksander, Bobov, Ger, Nadvorna, among others. More recent rebbes of Polish origin include Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (1880–1950), the sixth head of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement, who lived in Warsaw until 1940 when he moved Lubavitch from Warsaw to the United States. See also: List of Polish Rabbis
Jews of Poland within the Russian Empire (1795–1918)
Official Russian policy would eventually prove to be substantially harsher to the Jews than that under independent Polish rule. The lands that had once been Poland were to remain the home of many Jews, as, in 1772, Catherine II, the Tzarina of Russia, instituted the Pale of Settlement, restricting Jews to the western parts of the empire, which would eventually include much of Poland, although it excluded some areas in which Jews had previously lived. By the late 19th century, over four million Jews would live in the Pale.
Tsarist policy towards the Jews of Poland alternated between harsh rules, and inducements meant to break the resistance to large-scale conversion. In 1804, Alexander I of Russia issued a "Statute Concerning Jews", meant to accelerate the process of assimilation of the Empire's new Jewish population. The Polish Jews were allowed to establish schools with Russian, German or Polish curriculum. They could own land in the territories annexed from Poland. However, they were also restricted from leasing of property, teaching in Yiddish, or from entering Russia. They were banned from the brewing industry. The harshest measures designed to compel Jews to merge into society at large called for their expulsion from small villages into towns. Once the resettlement began, thousands of Jews lost their only source of income and turned to Kahal for support. Their living conditions in the Pale began to dramatically worsen.
During the reign of Tsar Nicolas I, known by the Jews as "Haman the Second", hundreds of new anti-Jewish measures were enacted. The 1827 decree by Nicolas – while lifting the traditional double taxation on Jews in lieu of army service – made Jews subject to general military recruitment laws that required Jewish communities to provide 7 recruits per each 1000 "souls" every 4 years. Unlike the general population that had to provide recruits between the ages of 18 and 35, Jews had to provide recruits between the ages of 12 and 25, at the qahal's discretion. Thus between 1827 and 1857 over 30,000 children were placed in the so-called Cantonist schools, where they were pressured to convert. "Many children were smuggled to Poland, where the conscription of Jews did not take effect until 1844."
Although the Jews were accorded slightly more rights with the Emancipation reform of 1861 by Alexander II, they were still restricted to the Pale of Settlement and subject to restrictions on ownership and profession. The existing status quo was shattered with the assassination of Alexander in 1881 – an act falsely blamed upon the Jews.
Pogroms within the Russian Empire
The assassination prompted a large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots, called pogroms, throughout 1881–1884. In the 1881 outbreak, pogroms were primarily limited to Russia, although in a riot in Warsaw two Jews were killed, 24 others were wounded, women were raped and over two million rubles worth of property was destroyed. The new czar, Alexander III, blamed the Jews for the riots and issued a series of harsh restrictions on Jewish movements. Pogroms continued until 1884, with at least tacit government approval. They proved a turning point in the history of the Jews in partitioned Poland and throughout the world. As a result of the pogroms and the waves of antisemitism, 36 Jewish Zionist delegates met in Katowice, in 1884, forming the Hovevei Zion movement. The pogroms prompted a great flood of Jewish immigration to the United States. Nearly two million Jews left the Pale by the late 1920s, setting the stage for the Zionist movement.
An even bloodier wave of pogroms broke out from 1903 to 1906, and at least some of the pogroms are believed to have been organized or supported by the Tsarist Russian secret police, the Okhrana. Some of the worst of these occurred on Russia-occupied Polish territory, where the majority of Jews lived, and included the Białystok pogrom of 1906, in which up to a 100 Jews were murdered and many more wounded.
Haskalah and Halakha
The Jewish Enlightenment, Haskalah, began to take hold in Poland during the 19th century, stressing secular ideas and values. Champions of Haskalah, the Maskilim, pushed for assimilation and integration into Russian culture. At the same time, there was another school of Jewish thought that emphasized traditional study and a Jewish response to the ethical problems of antisemitism and persecution, one form of which was the Musar movement. Polish Jews generally were less influenced by Haskalah, rather focusing on a strong continuation of their religious lives based on Halakha ("rabbis's law") following primarily Orthodox Judaism, Hasidic Judaism, and also adapting to the new Religious Zionism of the Mizrachi movement later in the 19th century.
Politics in Polish territory
By the late 19th century, Haskalah and the debates it caused created a growing number of political movements within the Jewish community itself, covering a wide range of views and vying for votes in local and regional elections. Zionism became very popular with the advent of the Poale Zion socialist party as well as the religious Polish Mizrahi, and the increasingly popular General Zionists. Jews also took up socialism, forming the Bund labor union which supported assimilation and the rights of labor. The Folkspartei (People's Party) advocated, for its part, cultural autonomy and resistance to assimilation. In 1912, Agudat Israel, a religious party, came into existence.
Many Jews took part in the Polish insurrections, particularly against Russia (since the Tsars discriminated heavily against the Jews). The Kościuszko Insurrection, January Insurrection (1863) and Revolutionary Movement of 1905 all saw significant Jewish involvement in the cause of Polish independence.
By the end of the 19th century, 14% of Polish citizens were Jewish. Jews participated in their religious communities, as well as local and federal government. There were several prominent Jewish politicians in the Polish Sejm, such as Apolinary Hartglass and Yitzhak Gruenbaum. Many Jewish political parties were active, representing a wide ideological spectrum, from the Zionists, to the socialists to the anti-Zionists. One of the largest of these parties was the Bund, which was strongest in Warsaw and Lodz.
In addition to the socialists, Zionist parties were also popular, in particular, the Marxist Poale Zion and the orthodox religious Polish Mizrahi. The General Zionist party became the most prominent Jewish party in the interwar period and in the 1919 elections to the first Polish Sejm since the partitions, gained 50% of the Jewish vote.
In 1914, the German Zionist Max Bodenheimer founded the short-lived German Committee for Freeing of Russian Jews, with the goal of establishing a buffer state (Pufferstaat) within the Jewish Pale of Settlement, composed of the former Polish provinces annexed by Russia, being de facto protectorate of the German Empire that would free Jews in the region from Russian oppression. The plan, known as Judeopolonia, soon proved unpopular with both German officials and Bodenheimer's colleagues, and was dead by the following year.
Interwar period 1918–1939
Fight for independence and Polish Jews
While many other non-Polish minorities were ambivalent or neutral to the idea of a Polish state, Jews played a role in the fight for Poland's independence in 1918, a significant number joining Józef Piłsudski. In the wake of World War I and the ensuing conflicts that engulfed Eastern Europe — the Russian Civil War, Polish-Ukrainian War, and Polish-Soviet War — many pogroms were launched against the Jews by all sides. As a substantial number of Jews were perceived to have supported the Bolsheviks in Russia, they came under frequent attack by those opposed to the Bolshevik regime. Just after the end of World War I, the West became alarmed by reports about alleged massive pogroms in Poland against Jews. Pressure for government action reached the point where U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent an official commission to investigate the matter. The commission, led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., concluded in its report that the reports of pogroms were exaggerated, but also noted that the violence against Jews had been produced by a "widespread anti-semitic prejudice against Jews" (see: Morgenthau Report). It identified eight major incidents in the years 1918–1919, and estimated the number of victims at 280. Four of these were attributed to the actions of deserters and undisciplined individual soldiers; none was blamed on official government policy. Among the incidents, in Pińsk a commander of a local Polish military garrison accused a group of Jewish civilians of plotting against the Poles (a claim the Morgenthau report found "devoid of foundation") and ordered the execution of thirty-five Jewish men, women and children. In Lviv (then Lemberg) in 1918, after the Polish Army captured the city, the report concluded that 64 Jews had been killed (other accounts put the number at seventy-two). In Warsaw, soldiers of Blue Army assaulted Jews in the streets, but were punished by military authorities. Many other events in Poland were later found to have been exaggerated, especially by contemporary newspapers such as The New York Times, although serious abuses against the Jews, including pogroms, continued elsewhere, especially in Ukraine. The above-mentioned atrocities committed by the young Polish army and its allies in 1919 during their Kiev operation against the Bolsheviks had a profound impact on the foreign perception of the re-emerging Polish state. The result of the concerns over the fate of Poland's Jews was a series of explicit clauses in the Versailles Treaty signed by the Western powers, and President Paderewski, protecting the rights of minorities in new Poland including Germans. In 1921, Poland's March Constitution gave the Jews the same legal rights as other citizens and guaranteed them religious tolerance and freedom of religious holidays.
Jewish population in the area of the Congress of Poland increased sevenfold between 1816 and 1921, from around 213,000 to roughly 1,500,000. The number of Jews migrating to Poland from Ukraine and the Soviet Russia during the interwar period grew rapidly. According to the Polish national census of 1921, there were 2,845,364 Jews living in the Second Polish Republic; but, by late 1938 that number had grown by over 16% to approximately 3,310,000. The average rate of permanent settlement was about 30,000 per annum. At the same time, every year around 100,000 Jews were passing through Poland in unofficial emigration overseas. Between the end of the Polish–Soviet War and late 1938, the Jewish population of the Republic had grown by over 464,000.
Jewish and Polish culture
The newly independent Second Polish Republic had a large and vibrant Jewish minority. By the time World War II began, Poland had the largest concentration of Jews in Europe although many Polish Jews had a separate culture and ethnic identity from Catholic Poles. Some authors have stated that only about 10% of Polish Jews during the interwar period could be considered "assimilated" while more than 80% could be readily recognized as Jews.
According to the 1931 National Census there were 3,130,581 Polish Jews measured by the declaration of their religion. Estimating the population increase and the emigration from Poland between 1931 and 1939, there were probably 3,474,000 Jews in Poland as of September 1, 1939 (approximately 10% of the total population) primarily centered in large and smaller cities: 77% lived in cities and 23% in the villages. They made up about 50%, and in some cases even 70% of the population of smaller towns, especially in Eastern Poland. Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Łódź numbered about 233,000, roughly one-third of the city’s population. The city of Lwów (now in Ukraine) had the third largest Jewish population in Poland, numbering 110,000 in 1939 (42%). Wilno (now in Lithuania) had a Jewish community of nearly 100,000, about 45% of the city's total. In 1938, Kraków's Jewish population numbered over 60,000, or about 25% of the city's total population. In 1939 there were 375,000 Jews in Warsaw or one third of the city's population. Only New York City had more Jewish residents than Warsaw.
The major industries in which Polish Jews were employed were manufacturing and commerce. In many areas of the country the majority of retail businesses were owned by Jews who were sometimes among the wealthiest members of their communities. Many Jews also worked as shoemakers and tailors, as well as in the liberal professions; doctors (56% of all doctors in Poland), teachers (43%), journalists (22%) and lawyers (33%).
Jewish youth and religious groups, diverse political parties and Zionist organizations, newspapers and theatre flourished. Jews owned land and real estate, participated in retail and manufacturing and in the export industry. The religious beliefs spanned the range from Orthodox Hasidic Judaism to Progressive Judaism.
Polish language instead of Yiddish was increasingly used by the young Warsaw Jews who did not have a problem in identifying themselves fully as Jews, Varsovians and Poles. Jews such as Bruno Schulz, were entering the mainstream of Polish society, though many thought of themselves as a separate nationality within Poland.
Children were mainly enrolled in religious Jewish schools which limited their ability to speak Polish. As a result, according to the 1931 census, 79% of Jews gave Yiddish as their first language and only 12% listed Polish, with the remaining 9% being Hebrew. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of German-born Jews of this period spoke German as their first language. During the school year of 1937–1938 there were 226 elementary schools  and twelve high schools as well as fourteen vocational schools with either Yiddish or Hebrew as the instructional language. The YIVO (Jidiszer Wissenszaftlecher Institute) Scientific Institute was based in Wilno before transferring to New York during the war. Jewish political parties, both the Socialist General Jewish Labour Bund (The Bund), as well as parties of the Zionist right and left wing and religious conservative movements, were represented in the Sejm (the Polish Parliament) as well as in the regional councils.
The Jewish cultural scene  was particularly vibrant in pre–World War II Poland with numerous Jewish publications and more than one hundred periodicals. Yiddish authors, most notably Isaac Bashevis Singer, went on to achieve international acclaim as classic Jewish writers, and in Singer's case, win the 1978 Nobel Prize. Other Jewish authors of the period, like, Bruno Schulz, Julian Tuwim, Marian Hemar, Emanuel Schlechter, Jan Brzechwa (a favorite poet of Polish children) and Bolesław Leśmian, as well as Konrad Tom and Jerzy Jurandot were less well-known internationally, but made important contributions to Polish literature. Singer Jan Kiepura, born of a Jewish mother and Polish father, was one of the most popular artist of that era and pre-war songs of Jewish composers like Henryk Wars, Jerzy Petersburski, Artur Gold, Henryk Gold, Zygmunt Białostocki, Zygmunt Karasiński, Szymon Kataszek or Jakub Kagan are still widely known in Poland today. Painters became known as well for their depictions of Jewish life, like Maurycy Gottlieb Artur Markowicz, Maurycy Trebacz and younger ones like Chaim Goldberg were coming up in the ranks.
Scientist Leopold Infeld, mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, Alfred Tarski, and professor Adam Ulam contributed to the world of science. Others are Moses Schorr, Ludwik Zamenhof – the creator of Esperanto, Georges Charpak, Samuel Eilenberg, Emanuel Ringelblum, Artur Rubinstein just to name a few from the long list of Polish Jews who are known internationally. The term "genocide" was coined by Rafał Lemkin (1900–1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar. Leonid Hurwicz was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics. The Scientific Institute YIVO was first organized in Wilno. In Warsaw, important centers of Judaic scholarship, such the Main Judaic Library and the Institute of Judaic Studies were located, along with numerous Talmudic Schools (Jeszybots), religious centers and synagogues, many of which were of great architectural quality. Yiddish theatre also flourished; Poland had fifteen Yiddish theatres and theatrical groups. Warsaw was home to the most important Yiddish theater troupe of the time, the Vilna Troupe, which staged the first performance of The Dybbuk in 1920 at the Elyseum Theatre. Some future Israeli leaders studied at University of Warsaw including Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
There also were several Jewish sports clubs, with some of them, such as Hasmonea Lwow and Jutrzenka Kraków, winning promotion to the Polish First Football League. A Polish-Jewish footballer, Józef Klotz, scored the first ever goal for the Poland national football team. Another athlete, Alojzy Ehrlich, won several medals in the table-tennis tournaments.
An ever-increasing proportion of Jews in interwar Poland lived separate lives from the Polish majority. In 1921, 74.2% of Polish Jews listed Yiddish or Hebrew as their native language; the number rose to 87% by 1931, resulting in growing tensions between Jews and Poles. Jews were often not identified as Polish nationals; a problem caused not only by the reversal of assimilation shown in national censuses between 1921 and 1931, but also by the influx of Russian Jews escaping persecution especially in Ukraine, where up to 2,000 pogroms took place during the Civil War and an estimated 30,000 Jews were massacred directly and a total of 150,000 died. A large number of Russian Jews emigrated to Poland, as they were entitled by the Peace treaty of Riga to choose the country they preferred. Several hundred thousand refugees joined the already numerous Jewish minority of the Polish Second Republic. The resulting economic instability was mirrored by anti-Jewish sentiment in some of the media, discrimination, exclusion, and violence at the universities, and the appearance of "anti-Jewish squads" associated with some of the right-wing political parties. These developments contributed to a greater support among the Jewish community for Zionist and socialist ideas, coupled with attempts at further migration, curtailed only by the British government. Notably, the "campaign for Jewish emigration was predicated not on antisemitism but on objective social and economic factors". However, regardless of these changing economic and social conditions, the increase in antisemitic activity in prewar Poland was also typical of antisemitism found in other parts of Europe at that time, developing within a broader, continent-wide pattern with counterparts in every other European country.
The matters improved for a time under the rule of Józef Piłsudski (1926–1935), who opposed antisemitism. Piłsudski countered Endecja's 'ethnic assimilation' with the 'state assimilation' policy: citizens were judged by their loyalty to the state, not by their nationality. The years 1926–1935 were favourably viewed by many Polish Jews, whose situation improved especially under the cabinet of Pilsudski’s appointee Kazimierz Bartel. However a combination of various reasons, including the Great Depression, meant that the situation of Jewish Poles was never too satisfactory, and it deteriorated again after Piłsudski's death in May 1935, which many Jews regarded as a tragedy.
With the influence of the Endecja party growing, antisemitism gathered new momentum in Poland and was most felt in smaller towns and spheres in which Jews came into direct contact with Poles, such as in Polish schools or on the sports field. Further academic harassment, such as the introduction of ghetto benches, which forced Jewish students to sit in section of the lecture halls reserved exclusively for them, anti-Jewish riots, and semi-official or unofficial quotas (Numerus clausus) introduced in 1937 in some universities halved the number of Jews in Polish universities between independence and the late 1930s. The restrictions were so inclusive that, while Jews made up 20.4% of the student population in 1928, by 1937 their share was down to only 7.5%.
Although many Jews were educated, they were excluded from most of the relevant occupations, including the government bureaucracy. A good number therefore turned to the liberal professions, particularly medicine and law. In 1937 the Catholic trade unions of Polish doctors and lawyers restricted their new members to Christian Poles (in a similar manner the Jewish trade unions excluded non-Jewish professionals from their ranks after 1918). A series of professional and trade unions, including those for lawyers and physicians, enacted "Aryan clauses" expelling Polish Jews from their ranks. The bulk of Jewish workers were organized in Jewish trade unions under the influence of the Jewish Labor Bund, which recognized the special cultural needs of the Jewish population, as well as special conditions arising from official discrimination against Jews in certain professions. Jews were virtually excluded from Polish government jobs during this period.
Complex and long history shaped Polish attitudes towards the Jews and Jewish attitudes towards the Poles, but the anti-Jewish sentiment in Poland had reached its zenith in the years leading to the Second World War. Between 1935 and 1937 seventy-nine Jews were killed and 500 injured in anti-Jewish incidents. National policy was such that jobless Jews, who largely worked at home or in small shops due to discrimination in employment, were excluded from welfare benefits.
The national boycott of Jewish businesses and advocacy for their confiscation was promoted by the Endecja party, which introduced the term "Christian shop". A national movement to prevent the Jews from kosher slaughter of animals, with animal rights as the stated motivation, was also organized. Violence was also frequently aimed at Jewish stores, and many of them were looted. At the same time, persistent economic boycotts and harassment, including property-destroying riots, combined with the effects of the Great Depression that had been very severe on agricultural countries like Poland, reduced the standard of living of Poles and Polish Jews alike to the extent that by the end of the 1930s, a substantial portion of Polish Jews lived in grinding poverty. As a result, on the eve of the Second World War, the Jewish community in Poland was large and vibrant internally, yet (with the exception of a few professionals) also substantially poorer and less integrated than the Jews in most of Western Europe.
The main strain of antisemitism in Poland during this time was motivated by Catholic religious beliefs and centuries-old myths such as the blood libel. This religious-based antisemitism was sometimes joined with an ultra-nationalistic stereotype of Jews as disloyal to the Polish nation. On the eve of World War II, many typical Polish Christians believed that there were far too many Jews in the country and the Polish government became increasingly concerned with the "Jewish Question". Some politicians were in favor of mass Jewish emigration from Poland.
By the time of the German invasion in 1939, antisemitism was escalating, and hostility towards Jews was a mainstay of the right-wing political forces post-Piłsudski regime and also the Catholic Church. Discrimination and violence against Jews had rendered the Polish Jewish population increasingly destitute, as was the case throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe. Despite the impending threat to the Polish Republic from Nazi Germany, there was little effort seen in the way of reconciliation with Poland's Jewish population. In July 1939 the pro-government Gazeta Polska wrote, "The fact that our relations with the Reich are worsening does not in the least deactivate our program in the Jewish question—there is not and cannot be any common ground between our internal Jewish problem and Poland's relations with the Hitlerite Reich." Escalating hostility towards Polish Jews and an official Polish government desire to remove Jews from Poland continued until the German invasion of Poland.
World War II and the destruction of Polish Jewry (1939–45)
The Polish September campaign
The number of Jews in Poland on September 1, 1939 amounted to about 3,474,000 people. One hundred thirty thousand soldiers of Jewish descent served in the Polish Army at the outbreak of the Second World War, thus being among the first to launch armed resistance against the Nazi Germany. It is estimated that during the entirety of World War II as many as 32,216 Polish-Jewish soldiers and officers died and 61,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans; the majority did not survive. The soldiers and non-commissioned officers who were released ultimately found themselves in the Nazi ghettos and labor camps and suffered the same fate as other Jewish civilians in the ensuing Holocaust in Poland.
In 1939 Jews constituted 30% of Warsaw's population. With the coming of the war, Jewish and Polish citizens of Warsaw jointly defended the city, putting their differences aside. Polish Jews later served in almost all Polish formations during the entire World War II, many were killed or wounded and very many were decorated for their combat skills and exceptional service. Jews fought with the Polish Armed Forces in the West, in the Soviet formed Polish People's Army as well as in several underground organizations and as part of Polish partisan units or Jewish partisan formations.
Territories annexed by the USSR (1939–1941)
On August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany entered into a Nonaggression Pact, the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with a secret protocol providing the partition of Poland. Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939 and the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939. In the newly partitioned Poland, 61.2% of Polish Jews found themselves under German occupation while 38.8% were in the Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union. Based on population migration from West to East during and after the Invasion of Poland the percentage of Jews in the Soviet-occupied areas was probably higher than that of the 1931 census.
The Soviet annexation was accompanied by the widespread arrests of government officials, police, military personnel, border guards, teachers, priests, judges etc., followed by executions and massive deportation to the Soviet interior or forced labour camps where, as a result of the harsh conditions, many people died. Of the approximately 1.450 million Polish citizens living in the region deported by the Soviets, 63.1% were ethnic Poles but Jews represented 7.4% of all the prisoners.
Jewish refugees from Western Poland who registered for repatriation back to the German zone (people in the Soviet occupation zone had little knowledge of what was going on in the German occupation zone since the Soviet media did not report on their Nazi ally's misdeeds), wealthy Jewish capitalists, prewar political and social activists were labelled "class enemies" and deported for that reason. Jews caught for illegal border crossings or engaged in illicit trade and other "illegal" activities were also arrested and deported. Several thousand, mostly captured Polish soldiers, were executed on the spot; some of them were Jewish.
All private property and, crucial to Jewish economic life, private businesses were nationalized, political activity was illegal and thousands of people were jailed, many of whom were later executed. Zionism, which was designated by the Soviets as counter-revolutionary was also forbidden. Within one day all Polish and Jewish media was shut down and replaced by the new Soviet press, which conducted mainly political propaganda but also was attacking religion, including the Jewish faith. Synagogues and Churches were not yet closed but heavily taxed. The Soviet ruble of little value was immediately equalized to the much higher Polish zloty and by the end of 1939, zloty was abolished.
Most economic activity was subject to central planning and restrictions and a lot of private property nationalized. Because Jewish communities tended to rely on commerce and small scale businesses, the nationalization affected some of them to a greater degree than the general populace. The Soviet system resulted in different economic arrangements which were characterized by low wages and frequent shortages of goods and materials. As a result, Jews, like many other inhabitants of the region, saw a fall in their living standards.
Under Soviet policy, Poles were denied access to positions in the civil service and former Polish senior officials and notable members of the community were arrested and exiled to remote regions of Russia together with their families. At the same time the Soviet authorities encouraged Jews to fill in the newly emptied government and civil service jobs.
While most Poles of all ethnicities had anti-Soviet and anti-communist sentiments, a portion of the Jewish population, along with ethnic Belorussians, Ukrainians and few communist Poles had initially welcomed invading Soviet forces. The general feeling among Polish Jews was a sense of relief in having escaped the dangers of falling under Nazi rule, as well as from the overt policies of discrimination against Jews which had existed in the Polish state, including discrimination in education, employment and commerce, as well as antisemitic violence that in some cases reached pogrom levels. The Polish poet and former communist Aleksander Wat has stated that Jews were more inclined to cooperate with the Soviets  Norman Davies claimed that among the informers and collaborators, the percentage of Jews was striking, and they prepared lists of Polish "class enemies", while other historians have indicated that the level of Jewish collaboration could well have been less than that of ethnic Poles. Holocaust scholar Martin Dean has written that "few local Jews obtained positions of power under Soviet rule."
The issue of Jewish collaboration with the Soviet occupation remains controversial. Some scholars note that while not pro-communist, many Jews saw the Soviets as the lesser threat compared to the German Nazis. They stress that stories of Jews welcoming the Soviets on the streets, vividly remembered by many Poles from eastern part of the country are impressionistic and not reliable indicators of the level of Jewish support for the Soviets. Additionally, it has been noted that some ethnic Poles were as prominent as Jews in filling civil and police positions in the occupation administration, and that Jews, both civilians and in the Polish military, suffered equally at the hands of the Soviet occupiers. Whatever initial enthusiasm for the Soviet occupation Jews might have felt was soon dissipated upon feeling the impact of the suppression of Jewish societal modes of life by the occupiers. The tensions between ethnic Poles and Jews as a result of this period has, according to some historians, taken a toll on relations between Poles and Jews throughout the war, creating until this day, an impasse to Polish-Jewish rapprochement.
Even though only a small percentage of the Jewish community had been members of the Communist Party of Poland during the interwar era, they had occupied an influential and conspicuous place in the party's leadership and in the rank and file in major centres, such as Warsaw, Łódź and Lwow. A larger number of younger Jews, often through the pro-Marxist Bund or some Zionist groups, were sympathetic to Communism and Soviet Russia, both of which had been enemies of the Polish Second Republic. As a result of these factors they found it easy after 1939 to participate in the Soviet occupation administration in Eastern Poland, and briefly occupied prominent positions in industry, schools, local government, police and other Soviet-installed institutions. The concept of "Judeo-communism" was reinforced during the period of the Soviet occupation (see Żydokomuna).
There were also Jews who demonstrated loyalty toward Poland, assisting Poles during brutal Soviet occupation. Among thousands Polish officers killed by the Soviet NKVD in the Katyń massacre there were 500–600 Jews. From 1939 to 1941 between 100,000 and 300,000 Polish Jews were deported from Soviet-occupied Polish territory into the Soviet Union. Some of them, especially Polish Communists (e.g. Jakub Berman), moved voluntarily; however, most of them were forcibly deported or imprisoned in Gulag. Small numbers of Polish Jews (about 6,000) were able to leave the Soviet Union in 1942 with the Władysław Anders army, among them the future Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin. During the Polish army's II Corps' stay in the British Mandate of Palestine, 67% (2,972) of the Jewish soldiers deserted to settle in Palestine, and many joined the Irgun. General Anders decided not to prosecute the deserters and emphasized that the Jewish soldiers who remained in the Force fought bravely. Cemetery of Polish soldiers who died during the Battle of Monte Cassino contains also headstones bearing a Star of David.
The Holocaust: German-occupied Poland
The Polish Jewish community suffered the most in the Holocaust. About six million Polish citizens perished during the war, half of them (three million) Polish Jews—all but about 300,000 of the Jewish population—who were killed at the German Nazi murder camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibór, Chełmno or died of starvation in ghettos.
Poland was where the German Nazi program for the extermination of Jews, the "Final Solution" was implemented, since this was where the majority of Europe's Jews lived at the time (excluding the Soviet Union).
In 1939 several hundred synagogues were blown up or burnt by the Germans who sometimes forced the Jews to do it themselves. In many cases Germans turned the synagogues into factories, places of entertainment, swimming-pools or prisons. By the end of the war, almost all of the synagogues in Poland have been destroyed. rabbis were ordered to dance and sing in public with their beards cut or torn. Some rabbis were set on fire or hanged.
Germans ordered registration of all Jews and a word “Jude” was stamped in their identity cards. Numerous restrictions and prohibitions targeting Jews were introduced and brutally enforced. For example, Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks, use public transport, enter places of leisure, sports arenas, theaters, museums and libraries. On the street, Jews had to lift their hat to passing Germans. By the end of 1941 all Jews in German-occupied Poland, except the children, had to wear an identifying badge with a blue Star of David. The Germans made almost no attempt to set up a collaborationist government in Poland, "disappointed that Poles refused to collaborate", nevertheless, Polish language rags run by them routinely published antisemitic articles that urged local people to adopt an attitude of indifference towards the Jews.
Following Operation Barbarossa, many Jews in what was then Eastern Poland fell victim to Nazi death squads called Einsatzgruppen, which massacred Jews, especially in 1941. Some of these German-inspired massacres were carried out with help from, or active participation of Poles themselves: for example, the massacre in Jedwabne, in which between 300 (Institute of National Remembrance's Final Findings) and 1,600 Jews (Jan T. Gross) were tortured and beaten to death by members of the local population. The full extent of Polish participation in the massacres of the Polish Jewish community remains a controversial subject, in part due to Jewish leaders' refusal to allow the remains of the Jewish victims to be exhumed and their cause of death to be properly established. The Polish Institute for National Remembrance identified twenty-two other towns that had pogroms similar to Jedwabne. The reasons for these massacres are still debated, but they included antisemitism, resentment over alleged cooperation with the Soviet invaders in the Polish-Soviet War and during the 1939 invasion of the Kresy regions, greed for the possessions of the Jews, and of course coercion by the Nazis to participate in such massacres.
Some historians have written of the negative attitudes of some Poles towards persecuted Jews during the Holocaust. While members of Catholic clergy risked their lives to assist Jews, these efforts were made in the face of strong antisemitic attitudes from the Polish Catholic Church hierarchy. Anti-Jewish attitudes also existed in the London-based Polish Government in Exile. An important fact is that December 18, 1942 the President of Poland in exile, Władysław Raczkiewicz wrote a dramatic letter to Pope Pius XII, begging him for a public defense of the murdered Poles and Jews. However, Poles saved Jews to evidenced by the quantidy of Polish Righteous among the Nations and also the introduction of capital penalties executed on the entire family for helping Jews. Holocaust survivors's views of Polish behavior during the War span a wide range, depending on the personal experiences of the person. Some are very negative, based on the view of Christian Poles as passive witnesses who failed to act and aid the Jews as they were being persecuted or liquidated by the Nazi Germans. Poles, who were also victims of Nazi crimes, were often afraid for their and their family's lives themselves and this fear prevented many of them from giving aid and assistance, even if some of them felt sympathy for the Jews. Emanuel Ringelblum, a Polish-Jewish historian of the Warsaw Ghetto, wrote critically of the indifferent and sometimes joyful responses in Warsaw to the destruction of Polish Jews in the Ghetto. However despite that, as another scholar (Gunnar S. Paulsson) in his work on the Jews of Warsaw has demonstrated, Polish citizens of Warsaw managed to support and hide the same percentage of Jews as did the citizens of cities in Western European countries.
Ghettos and death camps
The German Nazis established six extermination camps throughout Poland by 1942. All of these – at Chelmno (Kulmhof), Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz (Oswiecim) – were located on the rail network so that the victims could be easily transported to them. The system of camps was expanded over the course of the German occupation of Poland and their purposes were diversified; some served as transit camps, some as forced labor camps and some as death camps. While in the death camps, the victims were usually killed shortly after arrival, in the other camps able-bodied Jews were worked and beaten to death.
Between October 1939 and July 1942 a system of ghettos was imposed for the confinement of Jews. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest in all of World War II, with 380,000 people crammed into an area of 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2). The Łódź Ghetto was the second largest, holding about 160,000. Other Polish cities with large Jewish ghettos included Białystok (Białystok Ghetto), Częstochowa, Kielce, Kraków (Kraków Ghetto), Lublin, Lwów (Lviv Ghetto), and Radom. Ghettos were also established in hundreds of smaller settlements. Living conditions in the Ghettos, most hermetically sealed and without ability to leave, were terrible. Overcrowding, dirt, lice, lethal epidemics such as typhoid and hunger resulted in countless deaths.
During the occupation of Poland, the Germans used various laws to separate non-Jewish Poles and Jewish Poles. In the ghettos the population was separated by putting the non-Jewish Poles into the "Aryan Side" and the Jewish Poles into the "Jewish Side". Any non-Jewish Pole found giving any help to a Jewish Pole was subject to the death penalty. Another law implemented by the Germans was that Poles were forbid from from buying from Jewish shops in which if they did they were subject to execution. Many Jews tried to escape from the ghettos in the hope of finding a place to hide outside of it, or of joining the partisan units. When this proved difficult escapees often returned to the ghetto on their own. If caught, Germans would murder the escapees and leave their bodies in plain view as a warning to others. Despite these terror tactics attempts at escape from ghettos continued up until their liquidation.
Since Nazi terror reigned throughout the Aryan districts, the chances of remaining successfully hidden undoubtedly depended on a fluent knowledge of the language and on having close ties with the community. Many Poles were not willing to hide Jews who might have escaped the ghettos or who might have been in hiding due to fear for their own lives and that of their families. The Germans would often murder non-Jewish Poles for small misdemeanors and execution for help rendered to Jews, even the most basic kinds, was automatic. Poles often refused to help, but the general reason for that was that they feared for their own lives since in any apartment block or area where Jews were found to be harboured, everybody in the house would be immediately shot by the Germans. While the German policy towards Jews was ruthless and criminal, their policy towards Christian Poles who helped Jews was very much the same. Thousands of non-Jewish Poles were executed for helping Jews.
Hiding in a Christian society to which the Jews were only partially assimilated was a daunting task. They needed to quickly acquire not only a new identity, but a new body of knowledge. Many Jews spoke Polish with an accent, used different nonverbal language, different gestures and facial expressions. Jews with the specific physical characteristics were particularly vulnerable.
Some individuals took advantage of a hiding person's desperation by collecting money, then reneging on their promise of aid — or worse, turning them over to the Germans for an additional reward. Individuals who turned in Jews in hiding to the Gestapo received a standard payment consisting of some cash, liquor, sugar and cigarettes.
Many Jews were robbed and handed over to the Germans by "szmalcownik"s many of whom practiced blackmail as an "occupation". Those criminals were condemned by the Polish Underground State and a fight against these informers was organized by Armia Krajowa (Underground State's military arm), with the death sentence being meted out on a scale unknown in the occupied countries of Western Europe.
To discourage Poles from giving shelter to Jews, the Germans often searched houses and introduced ruthless penalties. Poland was the only occupied country during World War II where the Nazis formally imposed the death penalty for anybody found sheltering and helping Jews.
The penalty applied not only to the person who did the helping, but also extended to his or her family, neighbors and sometimes to an entire village. In this way Germans applied the principle of collective responsibility whose purpose was to encourage neighbors to inform on each other in order to avoid punishment. The nature of these policies was widely known and visibly publicized by the Nazis who sought to terrorize the Polish population.
Food rations for Poles were very small (669 kcal per day in 1941) and black market prices of food were high, factors which made it difficult to hide people and almost impossible to hide entire families, especially in the cities. Despite these draconian measures imposed by the Nazis, Poland has the highest number of Righteous Among The Nations awards at the Yad Vashem Museum (6,339).
The Polish Government in Exile was the first (in November 1942) to reveal the existence of Nazi-run concentration camps and the systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, through its courier Jan Karski and through the activities of Witold Pilecki, a member of Armia Krajowa who was the only person to volunteer for imprisonment in Auschwitz and who organized a resistance movement inside the camp itself. One of the Jewish members of the National Council of the Polish government in exile, Szmul Zygielbojm, committed suicide to protest the indifference of the Allied governments in the face of the Holocaust in Poland. The Polish government in exile was also the only government to set up an organization (Żegota) specifically aimed at helping the Jews in Poland.
Warsaw Ghetto and its uprising
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The Warsaw Ghetto and its 1943 Uprising represents what is likely the most known episode of the wartime history of the Polish Jews. The ghetto was established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank on October 16, 1940. Initially, almost 140,000 Jews were moved into the ghetto from all parts of Warsaw. At the same time approximately 110,000 Poles had been forcibly evicted from the area. The Germans selected Adam Czerniakow to take charge of the Jewish Council called Judenrat made up of 24 Jewish men ordered to organize Jewish labor battalions as well as Jewish Ghetto Police which would be responsible for maintaining order within the Ghetto walls. A number of Jewish policemen were corrupt and immoral. Soon the Nazis demanded even more from the Judenrat and the demands were much more cruel. Death was the punishment for the slightest indication of noncompliance by the Judenrat. Sometimes the Judenrat refused to collaborate in which case its members were consequently executed and replaced by the new group of people. Adam Czerniakow who was the head of the Warsaw Judenrat committed suicide  when he was forced to collect daily lists of Jews to be deported to Treblinka extermination camp at the onset of Grossaktion Warsaw.
The population of the ghetto reached 380,000 people by the end of 1940, about 30% of the population of Warsaw. However, the size of the Ghetto was only about 2.4% of the size of the city. The Germans closed off the Ghetto from the outside world, building a wall around it on November 16, 1940. During the next year and a half, Jews from smaller cities and villages were brought into the Warsaw Ghetto, while diseases (especially typhoid) and starvation kept the inhabitants at about the same number. Average food rations in 1941 for Jews in Warsaw were limited to 253 kcal, and 669 kcal for Poles, as opposed to 2,613 kcal for Germans. On July 22, 1942, the mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto inhabitants began. During the next fifty-two days (until September 12, 1942) about 300,000 people were transported by freight train to the Treblinka extermination camp. The deportations were carried out by fifty German SS soldiers, 200 soldiers of the Latvian Schutzmannschaften Battalions, 200 Ukrainian Police, and 2,500 Jewish Ghetto Police. Employees of the Judenrat, including the Ghetto Police, along with their families and relatives, were spared from deportations until September 1942 in return for their cooperation. Jewish Ghetto policemen were ordered to personally "deliver" ghetto inhabitants to the Umschlagplatz train station, but afterwards shared their fate. On January 18, 1943, a group of Ghetto militants led by the right leaning ŻZW, including some members of the left leaning ŻOB rose up in a first Warsaw uprising. Both organizations resisted, with arms, German attempts for additional deportations to Auschwitz and Treblinka. The final destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto came four months later after the crushing of one of the most heroic and tragic battles of the war, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
When we invaded the Ghetto for the first time – wrote SS commander Jürgen Stroop – the Jews and the Polish bandits succeeded in repelling the participating units, including tanks and armored cars, by a well-prepared concentration of fire. (...) The main Jewish battle group, mixed with Polish bandits, had already retired during the first and second day to the so-called Muranowski Square. There, it was reinforced by a considerable number of Polish bandits. Its plan was to hold the Ghetto by every means in order to prevent us from invading it. — Jürgen Stroop, Stroop Report, 1943.
The Uprising was led by ŻOB (Jewish Combat Organization) and the ŻZW. The ŻZW (Jewish Military Union) was the better supplied in arms. The ŻOB had more than 750 fighters, but lacked weapons: they had only 9 rifles, 59 pistols and several grenades. A developed network of bunkers and fortifications were formed. The Jewish fighters also received support from the Polish Underground (Armia Krajowa). The German forces, which included 2,842 Nazi soldiers and 7,000 security personnel, were not capable of crushing the Jewish resistance in open street combat and after several days, decided to switch strategy by setting buildings on fire in which the Jewish fighters hid. The commander of the ŻOB, Mordechai Anielewicz died fighting on May 8, 1943 at the organization's command centre on 18 Mila Street.
It took the Germans twenty-seven days to put down the uprising, after some very heavy fighting. The German general Jürgen Stroop, in his report, stated that his troops had killed 6,065 Jewish fighters during the battle. After the uprising was already over, Heinrich Himmler had the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Square (outside the ghetto) destroyed as a celebration of German victory and a symbol that the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw was no longer.
A group of fighters escaped from the ghetto through the sewers and reached the Lomianki forest. About 50 ghetto fighters were saved by the Polish "People's Guard" and later formed their own partisan group, named after Anielewicz. Even after the end of the uprising there were still several hundreds of Jews who continued living in the ruined ghetto. Many of them survived thanks to the contacts they managed to establish with Poles outside the ghetto.
The Uprising inspired Jews throughout Poland. Many Jewish leaders who survived the liquidation continued underground work outside the ghetto. They hid other Jews, forged necessary documents and were active in the Polish underground in other parts of Warsaw and surrounding area.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was followed by other Ghetto uprisings in many smaller towns and cities across German occupied Poland. Many Jews were found alive in the ruins of the former Warsaw Ghetto during the 1944 general Warsaw Uprising when the Poles themselves rose up against the Germans. Some of the survivors of 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, still held in camps at or near Warsaw, were freed during 1944 Warsaw Uprising, led by the Polish resistance movement Armia Krajowa, and immediately joined Polish fighters. Only a few of them survived. The Polish commander of one Jewish unit, Waclaw Micuta, described them as some of the best fighters, always at the front line. It is estimated that over 2,000 Polish Jews, some as well known as Marek Edelman or Icchak Cukierman, and several dozen Greek, Hungarian or even German Jews freed by Armia Krajowa from Gesiowka concentration camp in Warsaw, men and women, took part in combat against Nazis during 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Some 166,000 people lost their lives in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, including perhaps as many as 17,000 Polish Jews who had either fought with the AK or had been discovered in hiding (see: Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński and Stanisław Aronson). Warsaw was razed to the ground by the Germans and more than 150,000 Poles were sent to labor or concentration camps. On January 17, 1945, the Soviet Army entered destroyed and nearly uninhabited Warsaw. Some 300 Jews were found hiding in the ruins in the Polish part of the city (see: Wladyslaw Szpilman).
The fate of the Warsaw Ghetto was similar to that of the other ghettos in which Jews were concentrated. With the decision of Nazi Germany to begin the Final Solution, the destruction of the Jews of Europe, Aktion Reinhard began in 1942, with the opening of the extermination camps of Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka, followed by Auschwitz-Birkenau where people were killed in gas chambers and mass executions (death wall). Many died from hunger, starvation, disease, torture or by pseudo-medical experiments. The mass deportation of Jews from ghettos to these camps, such as happened at the Warsaw Ghetto, soon followed, and more than 1.7 million Jews were killed at the Aktion Reinhard camps by October 1943 alone.
Białystok Ghetto and uprising
In August 1941, the Germans ordered the establishment of a ghetto in Białystok. About 50,000 Jews from the city and the surrounding region were confined in a small area of Białystok. The ghetto had two sections, divided by the Biala River. Most Jews in the Białystok ghetto worked in forced-labor projects, primarily in large textile factories located within the ghetto boundaries. The Germans also sometimes used Jews in forced-labor projects outside the ghetto.
In February 1943, approximately 10,000 Białystok Jews were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. During the deportations, hundreds of Jews, mainly those deemed too weak or sick to travel, were killed.
In August 1943, the Germans mounted an operation to destroy the Białystok ghetto. German forces and local police auxiliaries surrounded the ghetto and began to round up Jews systematically for deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp. Approximately 7,600 Jews were held in a central transit camp in the city before deportation to Treblinka. Those deemed fit to work were sent to the Majdanek camp. In Majdanek, after another screening for ability to work, they were transported to the Poniatowa, Blizyn, or Auschwitz camps. Those deemed too weak to work were murdered at Majdanek. More than 1,000 Jewish children were sent first to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Bohemia, and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were killed.
On August 15, 1943, the Białystok Ghetto Uprising began, and several hundred Polish Jews and members of the Anti-Fascist Military Organisation (Polish: Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa) started an armed struggle against the German troops who were carrying out the planned liquidation and deportation of the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. The guerrillas were armed with only one machine gun, several dozen pistols, Molotov cocktails and bottles filled with acid. The fighting in isolated pockets of resistance lasted for several days, but the defence was broken almost instantly. As with the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943, the Białystok uprising had no chances for military success, but it was the second largest ghetto uprising, after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Several dozen guerrillas managed to break through to the forests surrounding Białystok where they joined the partisan units of Armia Krajowa and other organisations and survived the war.
Communist rule: 1945–1989
Between 40,000 and 100,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust in Poland by hiding or by joining the Polish or Soviet partisan units. Another 50,000–170,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union and 20,000–40,000 from Germany and other countries. At its postwar peak, there were 180,000–240,000 Jews in Poland mostly in Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, Wrocław and Lower Silesia, e.g., Legnica, Dzierżoniów and Bielawa.
The character of Poland had changed however. In spite of the major Polish contribution to World War II, Poland was placed under direct Soviet control due to British and US dependence on the Soviet military commitment to the defeat of Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt's unwillingness to confront Stalin over his future plans for Poland. Soviet style communism was established and the borders of Poland were moved west. The Soviet Union annexed the eastern regions, which had many ethnic minorities including Jewish shtetl communities.
The Jewish survivors found it practically impossible to reconstruct their earlier lives as they were before in pre-war Poland. Jewish communities and rich Jewish life ceased to exist. People who somehow survived the Holocaust and who returned to their town or villages often discovered that their homes had been looted or destroyed. Some homes had new repatriated inhabitants who at times were very unhappy to see returning Jewish survivors.
Polish Jews began to leave Poland soon after the Second World War ended for a variety of reasons. Many left because Poland became a Communist country they did not want to live in, or because all private property had been confiscated by the new Communist government. Some left because they did not want to live where their family members were murdered and instead chose to live with relatives in different countries. Many wanted to go to British Mandate of Palestine, soon to be the new state of Israel, especially after Gen. Spychalski signed a decree allowing Jews to leave Poland without visas or exit permits. Yet others left because many Poles viewed Jews with hostility due to antisemitic prejudice.
Anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Polish cities and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Jewish violence (see: Anti-Jewish violence in Poland, 1944-1946). The best-known case is the Kielce pogrom of 1946, in which thirty-seven Jews were brutally murdered. Kielce antisemitic riot, amidst the raging civil war in postwar Poland, discouraged many survivors from rebuilding their lives there and convinced them to emigrate.
Irrespective of their status, the Communist government's response to the Kielce atrocities was rapid. Special investigators were dispatched and military tribunals formed. Acitivities of the local authorities were investigated. However, only the local commander of Milicja Obywatelska was found guilty of inaction. Nine direct participants of the pogrom were sentenced to death; three were given lengthy prison sentences. Debate in Poland continues today whether the murderers were leftists or rightists. Who inspired the killings is not agreed upon or known.
Between 1945 and 1948, 100,000–120,000 Jews left Poland. Their departure was largely organized by the Zionist activists in Poland such as Adolf Berman and Icchak Cukierman under the umbrella of a semi-clandestine organization Berihah ("Flight"). Berihah was also responsible for the organized emigration of Jews from Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia totaling 250,000 (including Poland) Holocaust survivors.
A second wave of Jewish emigration (50,000) took place during the liberalization of the Communist regime between 1957 and 1959. After 1967's Six-Day War, in which the Soviet Union supported the Arab side, the Polish communist party adopted an anti-Jewish course of action which in the years 1968–69 provoked the last mass migration of Jews from Poland.
The Bund took part in the post-war elections of 1947 on a common ticket with the (non-communist) Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and gained its first and only parliamentary seat in its Polish history, plus several seats in municipal councils. Under pressure from Soviet-installed communist authorities, the Bund's leaders 'voluntarily' disbanded the party in 1948–1949 against the opposition of many activists. Stalinist Poland was basically governed by the Soviet NKVD which was against the renewal of Jewish religious and even cultural life. In the years 1948–49 all remaining Jewish schools were nationalized by the communists and Yiddish was replaced with Polish as a language of teaching.
For those Polish Jews who remained, the rebuilding of Jewish life in Poland was carried out between October 1944 and 1950 by the Central Committee of Polish Jews (Centralny Komitet Żydów Polskich, CKŻP) which provided legal, educational, social care, cultural, and propaganda services. A countrywide Jewish Religious Community, led by Dawid Kahane, who served as chief rabbi of the Polish Armed Forces, functioned between 1945 and 1948 until it was absorbed by the CKŻP. Eleven independent political Jewish parties, of which eight were legal, existed until their dissolution during 1949–50. Hospitals and schools were opened in Poland by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and ORT to provide service to Jewish communities. Some Jewish cultural institutions were established including the Yiddish State Theater founded in 1950 and directed by Ida Kaminska, the Jewish Historical Institute, an academic institution specializing in the research of the history and culture of the Jews in Poland, and the Yiddish newspaper Folks-Shtime ("People's Voice").
Following liberalization after Joseph Stalin's death, in this 1958–59 period, 50,000 Jews emigrated to Israel. A significant number of Polish Communists were of Jewish descent and actively participated in the establishment of the communist regime in the People's Republic of Poland. Between 1944 and 1956, they held, among others, prominent posts in the Politburo of the Polish United Worker's Party (e.g., Jakub Berman, Hilary Minc– responsible for establishing a Communist-style economy), and the security apparatus Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (UB) and in diplomacy/intelligence. After 1956, during the process of destalinisation in Poland under Władysław Gomułka's regime, some Urząd Bezpieczeństwa officials including Roman Romkowski (born Natan Grunsapau-Kikiel), Jacek Różański (born Jozef Goldberg), and Anatol Fejgin were prosecuted for "power abuses" including the torture of Polish anti-communists (among them, Witold Pilecki), and sentenced to long prison terms. A UB official, Józef Światło, (born Izaak Fleichfarb), after escaping in 1953 to the West, exposed through Radio Free Europe the methods of the UB which led to its dissolution in 1954. Solomon Morel a member of the Ministry of Public Security of Poland and commandant of the Stalinist era Zgoda labour camp, fled Poland for Israel to escape prosecution for genocide. Helena Wolińska-Brus (born Fajga Mindla Danielak), a former Stalinist prosecutor, who emigrated to England in the late 1960s, was fighting being extradited to Poland on charges related to the execution of a Second World War resistance hero Emil Fieldorf. Wolinska died in London in 2008.
In 1967, following the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states, Poland's Communist government, following the Soviet lead, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel and launched an antisemitic campaign under the guise of "anti-Zionism". However, the campaign did not resonate well with the Polish public, as most Poles saw similarities between Israel's fight for survival and Poland's past struggles for independence. Many Poles also felt pride in the success of the Israeli military, which was dominated by Polish Jews. The slogan "our Jews beat the Soviet Arabs" (Nasi Żydzi pobili sowieckich Arabów) became popular in Poland.
The vast majority of the 40,000 Jews in Poland by the late 1960s were completely assimilated into the broader society. However, this did not prevent them from becoming victims of a campaign, centrally organized by the Polish Communist Party, with Soviet backing, which equated Jewish origins with "Zionism" and disloyalty to a Socialist Poland.
In March 1968 student-led demonstrations in Warsaw (see Polish 1968 political crisis) gave Gomułka's government an excuse to try and channel public anti-government sentiment into another avenue. Thus his security chief, Mieczysław Moczar, used the situation as a pretext to launch an antisemitic press campaign (although the expression "Zionist" was officially used). The state-sponsored "anti-Zionist" campaign resulted in the removal of Jews from the Polish United Worker's Party and from teaching positions in schools and universities. In 1967–1971 under economic, political and secret police pressure, over 14,000 Polish Jews were forced to leave Poland and relinquish their Polish citizenship . Officially, they were expelled to Israel. However, only about 4,000 actually went there; most settled throughout Europe and in the United States. The leaders of the Communist party tried to stifle the ongoing protests and unrest by scapegoating the Jews. At the same time there was an ongoing power struggle within the party itself and the antisemitic campaign was used by one faction against another. The so-called "Partisan" faction blamed the Jews who had held office during the Stalinist period for the excesses that had occurred, but the end result was that most of the remaining Polish Jews, regardless of their background or political affiliation, were targeted by the communist authorities.
There were several outcomes of the March 1968 events. The campaign damaged Poland's reputation abroad, particularly in the U.S. Many Polish intellectuals, however, were disgusted at the promotion of official antisemitism and opposed the campaign. Some of the people who emigrated to the West at this time founded organizations which encouraged anti-Communist opposition inside Poland.
First attempts to improve Polish-Israeli relations began in the mid-1970s. Poland was the first of the Eastern Bloc countries to restore diplomatic relations with Israel after these have been broken off right after the Six-Day's War. In 1986 partial diplomatic relations with Israel were restored, and full relations were restored in 1990 as soon as communism fell.
During the late 1970s some Jewish activists were engaged in the anti-Communist opposition groups. Most prominent among them, Adam Michnik (founder of Gazeta Wyborcza) was one of the founders of the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR). By the time of the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989, only 5,000–10,000 Jews remained in the country, many of them preferring to conceal their Jewish origin.
With the fall of communism in Poland, Jewish cultural, social, and religious life has been undergoing a revival. Many historical issues, especially related to World War II and the 1944–89 period, suppressed by Communist censorship have been re-evaluated and publicly discussed (like the Massacre in Jedwabne, the Koniuchy Massacre, the Kielce pogrom, the Auschwitz cross, and Polish-Jewish wartime relations in general).
According to a 2005 survey by ADL, the portion of the population holding antisemitic views in Poland is not higher than those in some other countries surveyed. According to a Polish survey carried out by CBOS, and published in January 2005, in which Poles were asked to assess their attitudes toward other nationalities representing different European and non-European countries, 45% claimed to feel antipathy towards Jews (steadily decreasing), 18% to feel sympathy (fluctuating by up to 10 percentage points annually; in 1997 it was 28%), while 29% felt impartial and 8% were undecided. Those surveyed were asked to express their feeling on the scale from −3 (strong antipathy) to +3 (strong sympathy). The average score for attitude towards Jews was −0.67 in that year. In the CBOS survey from 2010, antipathy decreased to 27%, and sympathy rose to 31% (down from 34% in 2008). The average score for attitude was +0.05 at that time.
The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, said in a BBC interview: it's ... false and painful stereotype that all Poles are antisemitic. This is something I want to clearly state: this is a false stereotype. Today there is antisemitism in Poland, as unfortunately the rest of Europe; it is more or less at the same level as the rest of Europe. More important is that you have a growing number of Poles who oppose antisemitism.
Poland has many legal provisions to combat antisemitism, neo-fascism, extremism and has ratified all the major international conventions pertaining to human rights protection and anti-discrimination.
Jewish religious life has been revived with the help of the Ronald Lauder Foundation and the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture. There are two rabbis serving the Polish Jewish community, several Jewish schools and associated summer camps as well as several periodical and book series sponsored by the above foundations. Jewish studies programs are offered at major universities, such as Warsaw University and the Jagiellonian University. The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland was founded in 1993. Its purpose is the promotion and organization of Jewish religious and cultural activities in Polish communities.
A large number of cities with synagogues include Warsaw, Kraków, Zamość, Tykocin, Rzeszów, Kielce, or Góra Kalwaria although not many of them are still active in their original religious role. Stara Synagoga ("Old Synagogue") in Kraków, which hosts a Jewish museum, was built in the early 1400s and is the oldest synagogue in Poland. Before the war, the Yeshiva Chachmei in Lublin was Europe's largest. In 2007 it was renovated, dedicated and reopened thanks to the efforts and endowments by Polish Jewry. Warsaw has an active synagogue, Beit Warszawa, affiliated with the Liberal/Progressive stream of Judaism.
There are also several Jewish publications although most of them are in Polish. These include Midrasz, Dos Jidische Wort (which is bilingual), as well as a youth journal Jidele and "Sztendlach" for young children. Active institutions include the Jewish Historical Institute, the E.R. Kaminska State Yiddish Theater in Warsaw, and the Jewish Cultural Center. The Judaica Foundation in Kraków has sponsored a wide range of cultural and educational programs on Jewish themes for a predominantly Polish audience. With funds from the city of Warsaw and the Polish government (26$ million total) a Museum of the History of Polish Jews is being built in Warsaw. The building was designed by the Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamaecki.
Former extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka are open to visitors. At Auschwitz the Oświęcim State Museum currently houses exhibitions on Nazi crimes with a special section (Block Number 27) specifically focused on Jewish victims and martyrs. At Treblinka there is a monument built out of many shards of broken stone, as well as a mausoluem dedicated to those who perished there. A small mound of human ashes commemorates the 350,000 victims of the Majdanek camp who were killed there by the Nazis. In Łódz there is the largest Jewish burial ground in Europe, and preserved historic sites include those located in Góra Kalwaria and Leżajsk.
The Great Synagogue in Oświęcim was excavated after testimony by a Holocaust survivor suggested that many Jewish relics and ritual objects had been buried there, just before Nazis took over the town. Candelabras, chandeliers, a menorah and a ner tamid were found and can now be seen at the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
The Warsaw Ghetto Memorial was unveiled on April 19, 1948—the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw ghetto Uprising. It was constructed out of bronze and granite that the Nazis used for a monument honoring German victory over Poland and it was designed by Natan Rappaport. The Memorial is located where the Warsaw Ghetto used to be, at the site of one command bunker of the Jewish Combat Organization.
A memorial to the victims of the Kielce Pogrom of 1946, where a mob murdered more than 40 Jews who returned to the city after the Holocaust, was unveiled in 2006. The funds for the memorial came from the city itself and from the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.
In modern Poland, interest in learning about and preserving the artifacts of Jewish culture is quite strong, especially among the younger generations. Many works devoted to the Holocaust have been published. Notable among them are the Polish Academy of Sciences's journal Zaglada (first issue, 2005) as well as other publications from the Institute of National Remembrance.
There have been a number of Holocaust remembrance activities in Poland in recent years. The United States Department of State documents that:
In September 2000, dignitaries from Poland, Israel, the United States, and other countries (including Prince Hassan of Jordan) gathered in the city of Oświęcim (Auschwitz) to commemorate the opening of the refurbished Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue and the Auschwitz Jewish Center. The synagogue, the sole synagogue in Oświęcim to survive World War II and an adjacent Jewish cultural and educational center, provide visitors a place to pray and to learn about the active pre–World War II Jewish community that existed in Oświęcim. The synagogue was the first communal property in the country to be returned to the Jewish community under the 1997 law allowing for restitution of Jewish communal property.
The March of the Living is an event held each year in April to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It takes place from Auschwitz to Birkenau and is attended by many people from Israel, Poland and other countries. The marchers honor Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as Israel Independence Day.
In 2006, Poland's Jewish population was estimated to be approximately 20,000; most living in Warsaw, Wrocław, Kraków, and Bielsko-Biała, though there are no census figures that would give an exact number. According to the Polish Moses Schorr Centre and other Polish sources, however, this may represent an undercount of the actual number of Jews living in Poland, since many are not religious. The Centre estimates that there are approximately 100,000 Jews in Poland, of which 30,000 to 40,000 have some sort of direct connection to the Jewish community, either religiously or culturally. There are also people with Jewish roots who do not possess adequate documentation to confirm it, due to various historical and family complications. A special program of introduction to Judaism is offered to them by a progressive Jewish Community Beit Kraków.
Poland is currently easing the way for Jews who left Poland during the Communist organized massive expulsion of 1968 to re-obtain their citizenship. Some 15,000 Polish Jews were deprived of their citizenship in the 1968 Polish political crisis. On June 17, 2009 the future Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw launched a bilingual Polish-English website called "The Virtual Shtetl", providing information about Jewish life in Poland.
According to an ADL report released in 2012, based on telephone survey of 500 adults in Poland (out of the total number of 5,000 adults polled by Ipsos-Reid in 10 European countries), 54% of Poles continue to believe in some anti-Semitic stereotypes. The percentage is down from similar survey conducted in 2009. For instance, with regard to a question of whether "Jews have too much power in the business world", Poles surveyed ranked the third-highest after Hungary (73%) and Spain (60%). On another question regarding loyalty of their Jewish citizens, the surveyed Poles answered at par with Italians at 61% (overall, more than half of all European respondents gave the same answer). ADL currently ranks Poland after Hungary and Spain as the third-highest in the surveyed countries for people holding some anti-Semitic attitudes.
In July 2013, the Polish government pressured by animal rights activists, passed a law that banned kosher slaughter, causing an international uproar among the Jewish community. The European Council passed similar law already on September 24, 2009 but no country other than Sweden has acted upon it until now. Poland is one of the first member states of the European Union that passed the relevant bill. In the parliamentary vote, although 178 members voted for re-legalizing ritual slaughter, 222 members opposed it. The new law is causing serious concerns for the entire Polish meat industry. The Shechita ritual requires cutting the throat of an animal without stunning it first. According to FAWC it can take up to two minutes for cattle to bleed to death.
9.14% of the total
- History of the Jews in Galicia (Eastern Europe)
- Timeline of Jewish Polish history
- List of Polish Jews
- Jewish history
- Jewish ethnic divisions
- Museum of the History of Polish Jews
- Three Hares
- Wooden synagogue
- Jewish-Ukrainian relations in Eastern Galicia
- Lauder – Morasha School
- A & K Woźniak (2010). "Żydzi dzisiaj. Tablica 23". Fundacja Stefana Batorego. Retrieved July 23, 2011.
- Gedeon (2011). "Żydzi w Polsce. Dzieje najnowsze (po 1945)". Serwis Izrael. Retrieved July 23, 2011. (Polish)
- Article on Ynet news site, Hebrew (Google translate: "Polish passport" by Naama Sickoler).
- "Jews, by Country of Origin and Age". Statistical Abstract of Israel (in English, Hebrew). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. 26 September 2011. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
- Poland, at that time, was the most tolerant country in Europe "From Counter-Reformation to Glorious Revolution" by Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper University of Chicago Press 1992, page 51
- George Sanford, Historical Dictionary of Poland (2nd ed.) Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, 2003. p. 79.
- European Jewish Congress – Poland
- The Virtual Jewish History Tour – Poland. Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
- In accordance with its tradition of religious tolerance, Poland refrained from participating in the excesses of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation "Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends" by Lonnie R. Johnson Oxford University Press 1996
- Although traditional narrative holds that as a consequence, the predicament of the Commonwealth’s Jewry worsened, declining to the level of other European countries by the end of the eighteenth century, recent scholarship by Gershon Hundert, Moshe Rosman, Edward Fram, and Magda Teter, suggest that the reality was much more complex. See for example, the following works, which discuss Jewish life and culture, as well as Jewish-Christian relations during that period: M. Rosman Lords' Jews: Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Eighteenth Century (Harvard University Press, new ed. 1993), G. Hundert The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), E.Fram Ideals Face Reality: Jewish Law and Life in Poland, 1550–1655 (HUC Press, 1996), and M. TeterJews and Heretics in Pre-modern Poland: A Beleaguered Church in the Post-Reformation Era (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
- Beyond the Pale Online exposition
- William W. Hagen, Before the "Final Solution": Toward a Comparative Analysis of Political Anti-Semitism in Interwar Germany and Poland, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Jun., 1996), 351–381.
- Shoa Resource Center: Estimated Casualties During World War II. Internet Archive
- Paulsson, Gunnar S (2002). Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940–1945. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 245. ISBN 0-300-09546-5. "There were people everywhere who were prepared, for whatever motives, to do the Nazis' work for them. And if there was more anti-Semitism in Poland than in many other countries, there was also less collaboration.... The Nazis generally preferred not to count on outbursts of 'emotional anti-Semitism', when what was needed to realize their plans was 'rational antisemitism', as Hitler himself put it. For that, they neither received or requested significant help from the Poles."
- Unveiling the Secret City H-Net Review: John Radzilowski
- Richard C. Lukas Out of the inferno: Poles remember the Holocaust University Press of Kentucky, 1989 ISBN 0-8131-1692-9, p. 13
- Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives, 2008
- "I know this Jew!" Blackmailing of the Jews in Warsaw 1939–1945. Polish Center for Holocaust Research
- Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Righteous Among the Nations – per Country & Ethnic Origin January 1, 2009. Statistics
- Richard C. Lukas, Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust University Press of Kentucky 1989 – 201 pages. Page 13; also in Richard C. Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939–1944, University Press of Kentucky 1986 – 300 pages.
- Natalia Aleksiun. "Jewish Responses to Antisemitism in Poland, 1944–1947." In: Joshua D. Zimmerman, ed. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003. Pages 249; 256.
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Glenn Dynner, Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (NY: Oxford University Press, 2006)
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- Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland
World War II and the Holocaust
- Chronicles of the Vilna Ghetto: wartime photographs & documents – vilnaghetto.com
- Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from the US Holocaust Museum. From the same source see:
- Chronology of German Anti-Jewish Measures during World War II in Poland
- The Catholic Zionist Who Helped Steer Israeli Independence through the UN
- Poland's Jews:A light flickers on, The Economist, 20 December 2005