Jewish Polish history during the 20th century

Jewish Polish history during the 20th century

Jewish Polish history during the 1900s:

Interwar period 1918-1939

Independence and Polish Jews

Jews also played a role in the fight for independence in 1918, some joining Józef Piłsudski, but many other communities decided to remain neutral in the fight for a Polish state. In the wake of the World War I and the ensuing series of conflicts that engulfed Eastern Europe like the Russian Civil War, Polish-Ukrainian War, Polish-Soviet War, many pogroms were launched against the Jews by all sides. As a significant 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 president Woodrow Wilson sent an official commission to investigate the issue. The commission, led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., announced that the reports of pogroms were exaggerated, and in some cases may even have been fabricated. It identified eighty nine major incidents in years 1918-1919, and estimated the number of victims at 200-300 Jews. Four of these were attributed to the actions of deserters and undisciplined individual soldiers; none were blamed on official government policy. Among the incidents, in Pinsk a Polish officer accused a group of Jewish communists of plotting against the Poles, shooting 35 of them. In Lviv (then Lemberg) in 1918, after the Polish army captured the city, hundreds of people were killed in the chaos, among them about 72 Jews. In Warsaw soldiers of Blue Army assaulted Jews on the streets, but they were punished by military authorities. As the Polish troops entered the Vilnius in 1919 first pogrom in modern city on Lithuanian Jews started, as noted by the Timothy D. Snyder, citing Michał Pius Römer.cite book | last = Snyder | first = Timothy | authorlink = Timothy D. Snyder | coauthors = | title = Reconstruction of Nations : Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999. | publisher = Yale University Press | date = | location = | pages = 49 | url = | doi = | id = | quote =Jews had been generally sympathetic to the Lithuanian claim, believing that a large multinational Lithuania with Vilne as its capital would be more likely to respect their rights. Their reward in 1919 had been the first pogroms in modern Vilne. | isbn = 0300095694 ] Many other events in Poland were later found to have been exaggerated, especially by contemporary newspapers like New York Times, although serious abuses against the Jews, including pogroms, continued elsewhere, especially in the Ukraine. The result of the concern over the fate of the Jews of west Poland was a series of explicit clauses in the Paris Peace Conference protecting the rights of Jews in Poland.

Jewish and Polish culture

The newly independent Second Polish Republic had a large Jewish minority – by the time World War II began, Poland had the largest concentration of Jews in Europe. According to the 1931 Polish 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, " (the Polish Parliament) as well as in the regional councils.

The Jewish cultural scene [,M1] was particularly vibrant and blossomed in pre-World War II Poland. There were many Jewish publications and over 116 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 Janusz Korczak, Bruno Schulz, Julian Tuwim, Jan Brzechwa (a favorite poet of Polish children) and Bolesław Leśmian were less well-known internationally, but made important contributions to Polish literature. Singer Jan Kiepura was one of the most popular artist of that era and pre-war songs of Jewish composers like Henryk Wars or Jerzy Petersburski are still widely known in Poland today. Scientist Leopold Infeld, mathematician Stanislaw Ulam or professor Adam Ulam contributed to the world of science. Others are Moses Schorr, Georges Charpak, Samuel Eilenberg, Emanuel Ringelblum just to name a few from the long list of Polish Jews who are known internationally. The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar. Leonid Hurwicz was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics. The Main Judaic Library and the Institute of Judaic Studies were located in Warsaw, religious centers had at their disposal Talmudic Schools (Jeszybots), as well as synagogues, many of which were architecturally outstanding. 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 - Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir.

Rising Anti-Semitism

Persecution of Jews in Poland was most visible during the early and latter years of the Second Republic. Jews were often not identified as true Poles; a problem caused by both Polish nationalism, supported by the Endecja government, and the fact that a substantial proportion of Jews lived separate lives from the Polish majority: 85% of Polish Jews listed Yiddish or Hebrew as their native language, for exampleFact|date=August 2007. The matters improved for a time under the rule of Józef Piłsudski (1926–1935), who opposed anti-Semitism. Piłsudski replaced "Endecja's" 'ethnic assimilation' with the 'state assimilation' policy: citizens were judged by their loyalty to the state, not by their nationality.Timothy Snyder, "The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999", Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10586-X [ Google Books, p.144] ] The years 1926–1935 were favourably viewed by many Polish Jews, whose situation improved especially under the cabinet of Pilsudski’s appointee Kazimierz Bartel.Feigue Cieplinski, "Poles and Jews: The Quest For Self-Determination 1919–1934", Binghamton Journal of History, Fall 2002, Last accessed on 2 June 2006.] 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. [ [ DavidGorodok - Section IV - a ] ] With Endecja party influence 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. Verbal abuse of Jewish children in Polish schools was commonplace. Polish high-school students, influenced by the Endeks, forced their Jewish comrades to stand during lessons; the teachers, even those who were not antisemites, were usually afraid to intervene. Jewish children often fell victim to antisemitic incidents on their way to or from school. On the way to the soccer stadium, Jews were set upon and beaten, and a victory by the Jewish side was sufficient reason for renewed attacks. Further academic harassment, 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. In 1937 the Catholic trade unions of Polish doctors and lawyers restricted their new members to Christian Poles while many government jobs continued to be unavailable to Jews during this entire period. This was accompanied by physical violence: in the years between 1935 and 1937 seventy-nine Jews were killed and 500 injured in anti-Jewish incidents, there were also victims among anti-semites. ["The Routledge Atlas of the Holocaust" by Martin Gilbert, pp.21. Relevant page viewable via [ Google book search] ] 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 Polish Jews until it was among the worst among major Jewish communities in the world. The result was that at 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.

Polish Catholicism at this time taught that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. [Celia Stopnicka Heller. [ On the Edge of Destruction: Jews of Poland Between the Two World Wars] . Wayne State University Press, 1993.] 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." The favored solution was mass Jewish emigration. By the time of the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939, antisemitism in Poland was escalating, and hostility towards Jews was a mainstay of the Catholic church, right-wing political forces, and the post-Piłsudski regime. 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 of 1939 Gazeta Polska, the unofficial organ of the Polish government [Celia Stopnicka Heller. [,M1 "On the Edge Of Destruction: Jews of Poland Between the Two World Wars." Wayne State University Press, 1993.] 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." [Edward D. Wynot, Jr., 'A Necessary Cruelty': The Emergence of Official Anti-Semitism in Poland, 1936-39. A"merican Historical Review", no. 4, October 19711035-1058.] [William W. Hagen. Before the "Final Solution": Toward a Comparative Analysis of Political Antisemitism in Interwar Germany and Poland. "Journal of Modern History" July, 1996: 1-31.] Escalating hostility towards Polish Jews and an official Polish government desire of removing Jews from Poland continued right up until the Nazi invasion of Poland. [Celia Stopnicka Heller. [ "On the Edge Of Destruction: Jews of Poland Between the Two World Wars".] Wayne State University Press, 1993.]

Ze'ev Jabotinsky was supported by the government of Poland.

WWII and the destruction of Polish Jewry (1939-1945)

"Main articles: The Holocaust and History of Poland (1939-1945)"
"the Sheltering of Escaping Jews".
....There is a need for a reminder, that in accordance with paragraph 3 of the decree of October 15, 1941, on the Limitation of Residence in General Government (page 595 of the GG Register) Jews leaving the Jewish Quarter without permission will incur the death penalty.---- ....According to this decree, those knowingly helping these Jews by providing shelter, supplying food, or selling them foodstuffs are also subject to the death penalty
----....This is a categorical warning to the non-Jewish population against:
.........1) Providing shelter to Jews,
.........2) Supplying them with Food,
.........3) Selling them Foodstuffs.
Dr. Franke - Town Commander - Częstochowa 9/24/42]

The Polish September campaign

The number of Jews in Poland on September 1st 1939 amounted to about 3,474,000 people. [] Contrary to what many people believe, Jews in Poland were not simply victims of the Holocaust. Jewish Polish soldiers [] were among the first to launch armed resistance against the Nazi Germany during the 1939 Invasion of Poland. [] Among one million Polish soldiers fighting the Germans in September 1939 , 13 percent (130,000) were Polish citizens of Jewish descent, who fought in all branches of Polish Armed Forces. [] It is estimated that during the entirety of World War II as many as 32,216 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 ghettos and labor camps and suffered the same fate as other Jewish civilians.

oviet-Occupied Poland

The relations between the Jews and the local Gentile population of then Eastern Poland which contained Byelorussians, Ukrainians and mostly Poles, had been in general very good until the outbreak of the war in September 1939. On August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany entered into a Nonaggression Pact, so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov 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.Fact|date=July 2008 In newly partitioned Poland, according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, (according to 1931 census) 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 and military personnel, teachers, priests, judges, border guards, etc., followed by executions and massive deportation to Soviet interior and forced labour camps were many perished as a result of harsh conditions. The largest group of all those arrested or deported were ethnic Poles but Jews accounted for significant percentage of all the prisoners. Jewish refugees from Western Poland who registered for repatriation back to the German zone, 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. Private property, land, banks, factories, businesses, shops, and large workshops were nationalized. Political activity ceased and political prisoners filled the jails, many of whom were later executed. Zionism was designated as counter-revolutionary and forbidden. All Jewish and Polish newspapers were shut down within a day of the entry of the Soviet forces and anti-religious propaganda was conducted mainly through the new Soviet press which attacked religion in general and the Jewish faith in particular. Although the synagogues and churches were not shut down, they were heavily taxed. Sovietization of the economy affected the entire population. However, the Jewish communities were more vulnerable because of their distinctive social and economic structure. Red Army also brought with them new and different economic norms expressed in low wages, shortages in materials, rising prices, and a declining living standard. The Soviets also implemented a new employment policy that enabled many Jews to find jobs as civil servants while Poles were denied access to them and former Polish senior officials and leading personalities were arrested and exiled to remote regions of Russia together with their families. 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 communist Poles had initially welcomed Soviet forces. [Joshua D. Zimmerman. [,M1 Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath.] Rutgers University Press, 2003.] [ The Death of Chaimke] Yizkor Book Project, JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy] en icon cite book | author =Tadeusz Piotrowski | coauthors = | title =Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide... | year =1997 |editor=| pages =p. 49-65|chapter=| chapterurl = | publisher =McFarland & Company |location=| id =ISBN 0-7864-0371-3 |format=|accessdate=] The general feeling amongst 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 existed in the Polish state, including discrimination in education, employment and commerce, as well as antisemitic violence that in some cases reached pogrom levels. [Joshua D. Zimmerman. [,M1 Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath.] Rutgers University Press, 2003.] [Joanna B. Michlic. [,M1 Poland's Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present.] University of Nebraska Press, 2006.] 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. [Marek Jan Chodakiewicz. [ Between Nazis and Soviets: Occupation Politics in Poland, 1939-1947.] Lexington Books, 2004.] Holocaust scholar Martin Dean has written that "few local Jews obtained positions of power under Soviet rule." [Martin Dean. [ Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 1941-44.] Macmillan, 1999.]

The issue of Jewish collaboration with the Soviet occupation remains controversial. A large group of scholars note that while not pro-communist, many Jews saw the Soviets as the lesser threat compared to the Nazis. They stress that stories of Jews welcoming the Soviets on the streets are largely impressionistic and not reliable indicators of the level of Jewish support for the Soviets. Additionally, it has been noted that ethnic Poles were as prominent as Jews were 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. [Samuel D. Kassow. [,M1 "Who Will Write Our History: Emmanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Oyneg Shabes Archive."] Indiana University Press, 2007.] 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. [Jonathan Frankel. [,M1 "The Fate of the European Jews, 1939-1945: Continuity Or Contingency?"] Oxford University Press, 1998.] 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. [Tadeusz Piotrowski (1997). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide.... McFarland & Company, p. 49-65. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3.]

Only a small percentage of the Jewish community had been members of the Communist Party of Poland during the inter-war era, though 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, Lodz and Lwow. A larger number of younger Jews, often through the pro-Marxist Bund (General Jewish Workers' Union) 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 anitisemitic Polish concept of "Judeo-communism" was reinforced during the period of the Soviet occupation (see Żydokomuna). [Joanna Michlic. [ The Soviet Occupation of Poland, 1939–41, and the Stereotype of the Anti-Polish and Pro-Soviet Jew.] "Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society." Spring/Summer 2007, Vol. 13, No. 3:135-176.] [Krzysztof Szwagrzyk. [ Żydzi w kierownictwie UB. Stereotyp czy rzeczywistość? (Jews in the authorities of the Polish Secret Security. Stereotype or Reality?)] , "Bulletin of the Institute of National Remembrance." (11/2005), p. 37-42]

There were also many Jews who considered themselves both good Poles and good Jews and demonstrated loyalty toward Poland assisting Poles during brutal Soviet occupation.Among Polish officers killed by the NKVD in 1940 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 to "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, many to join the "Irgun". General Anders decided not to prosecute the deserters.The cemetery of Polish soldiers who died during the Battle of Monte Cassino contain also headstones bearing a Star of David.

The Holocaust: German-occupied Poland

The Polish Jewish community suffered the most in the Holocaust. About 6 million Polish citizens perished during the war [] , half of them (3 million) Polish Jews - all but about 300,000 of the Jewish population - who were killed at the Nazi extermination camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibór, Chełmno or died of starvation in ghettos. [ [ Death tolls in the Holocaust, from the US Holocaust Museum] ] Poland became the largest site of the Nazi extermination program, since this was where most of the intended victims lived. In 1939 several hundreds of 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. Jewish rabbis were ordered to dance and sing in public with their beards cut or torn. Some rabbis were set on fire or hang.Within few days, Germans ordered all Jews to register and the word “Jude” was stamped on their identity cards. Jews were placed outside the law and their lives were regulated by orders or edicts. Series of restrictions and prohibitions were introduced and brutally enforced. 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 and contact between Jews and non-Jews was banned. 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. [] Many Jews in what was then eastern Poland also fell victim to Nazi death squads called "Einsatzgruppen", which massacred Jews, especially in 1941.

Some of these German-inspired were carried out with help from, or even active participation of Poles themselves: for example, the massacre in Jedwabne, in which between 300 (Institute of National Remembrance's Final Findings [ [ Summary of IPN's final findings on Jedwabne] (English)] ) and 1,600 Jews (Jan T. Gross) were tortured and beaten to death by part of Jedwabne's citizens. The full extent of Polish participation in the massacres of the Polish Jewish community remains a controversial subject, in part due to Jewish leaders refusing 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. [ [,,669067,00.html Discussion of IPN findings] ] The reasons for these massacres are still debated, but they included anti-Semitism, 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 (although the majority of Polish Jews prior to the war constituted some of Poland's poorest citizens), and of course coersion by the Nazis to participate in such massacres. []

The Germans also established a number of ghettos in which Jews were confined, slowly starved and cruelly offered hopes of survival but eventually ended up being killed.The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest, with 380,000 people and the Łódź Ghetto, the second largest, holding about 160,000. Other Polish cities with large Jewish ghettos included Białystok, Częstochowa, Kielce, Kraków, Lublin, Lwów, and Radom. Ghettos were also established in smaller settlements.Living conditions in the Ghettos were terrible. Jews who tried to escape were shot to death with their bullet-riddled bodies to be left in public view until dusk as a warning. Many of those who fled to the Aryan side without connections with Christian Poles willing to risked their lives in order to help, returned to the ghettos when they were unable to find a place to hide. [] Many were robbed and handed over to the Germans by "szmalcownik" Poles. Hundreds of four to five year old Jewish children went across en masse to the Aryan side, sometimes several times a day, smuggling food into the ghettos, returning with goods that often weighed more than they did. Smuggling was sometimes the only source of subsistence for these children and their parents, who would otherwise have died of starvation. Shooting of Jews who were caught trying to smuggle in food became routine. People were shot to death for bringing in a chicken or a liter of milk. Poles from the Aryan side found assisting Jews in obtaind food were subject to the death penalty.Donald L. Niewyk, Francis R. Nicosia, "The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust", Columbia University Press, 2000, ISBN 0231112009, [ Google Print, p.114] ] Antony Polonsky, "'My Brother's Keeper?': Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust", Routledge, 1990, ISBN 0415042321, [ Google Print, p.149] ] 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. Food rations for Poles were very small (669 kcal per day in 1941) and black market prices of food were high, factors which made 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.

The Warsaw Ghetto [] was established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank on October 16, 1940. The German authorities allowed a Jewish Council ("Judenrat") of 24 men, led by Adam Czerniaków, [] [] to form its own police to maintain order in the ghetto. Judenrat was also responsible for organizing the labour battalions demanded by the Germans. At this time, the population of the ghetto was estimated to be about 380,000 people, about 30% of the population of Warsaw. However, the size of the Ghetto was about 2.4% of the size of Warsaw. The Germans then closed off the Warsaw Ghetto from the outside world on November 16 of that year, building a wall around it. 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 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 given immunity from deportations in return for their cooperation. Additionally, in August 1942, Jewish Ghetto policemen, under the threat of deportation themselves, were ordered to personally "deliver" five ghetto inhabitants to the Umschlagplatz train station. On January 18, 1943, some Ghetto inhabitants, including members of ŻOB ("Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa", Jewish Combat Organisation), resisted, often with arms, German attempts for additional deportations to Treblinka.The first ghetto uprising is believed to have occurred in 1942 the small town of Łachwa in the Polesie Voivodship.The final destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto came four months later after the crushing one of the most heroic and tragic battles of the war, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, led by Mordechaj Anielewicz. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which was reverberated throughout Poland and the rest of the world as an example of courage and defiance, was followed by other failed Ghetto uprisings in Nazi occupied Poland. Some of the survivors of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, still held in camps at or near Warsaw were freed a year later during the larger 1944 Warsaw Uprising, led by Polish resistance movement Armia Krajowa and immediately joined Polish fighters. Only few of them survived. Polish commander of that Jewish unit, Waclaw Micuta, described them as one of the best fighters of the Warsaw Uprising, always at the front line. It is estimated that over 2000 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 woman, took part in combat against Nazis during 1944 Warsaw Uprising. As many as 17,000 Polish Jews lost their lives during 1944 Warsaw Uprising, who either fought with the AK units or had been discovered in hiding.

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 were people were executed to death in the gas chambers and massive 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.

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, member of Armia Krajowa and the only person who volunteered for imprisonment in Auschwitz and organized a resistance movement inside the camp itself. [ [ Note of December 10 1942, addressed by the Polish Government to the Governments of the united nations concerning the mass extermination of Jews] ] 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.

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 settled mostly in Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, Wrocław and Lower Silesia, eg. Bielawa. Dzierżoniów.

Soon after the end of the Second World War, Jews began to flee Poland. The exodus took place in stages. After the war, the vast majority of survivors left for several reasons, often more than one. Many left simply because they did not want to live in a communist country. Some left because the refusal of the Communist regime to return prewar property. Others did not wish to rebuild their lives in the places where their families were murdered. Yet others wanted to go to British Mandate of Palestine, which soon became Israel. Some of the survivors had relatives abroad. The dominant factor, however, was the country's major anti-Semitism. Jews incurred sometimes lethal risks. Postwar Poland was a chaotic country in which communists and nationalists fought each other. Hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Jewish violence [] . The best-known case is the Kielce pogrom of 1946 [] , in which thirty seven Jews were brutally murdered. Until today the debate in Poland continues whether the murderers were leftists or rightists and who inspired the killings. 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. Then there was the third major wave of emigration, which one might call an expulsion of Jews, in 1968-1969. Thereafter almost all Jews who decided to stay in Poland "stopped" being Jewish.

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.

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.

A number of Polish Jews participated in the establishment of the Communist regime in the People's Republic of Poland between 1944 and 1956, holding, 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 anticommunists (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. Jerzy Borejsza was an important press and book editor, who attracted many talented writers.

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"

From 1967-1989

In 1967, following the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states, communist Poland broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. The Israeli victory over the Soviet backed Arab states in 1967 was greeted by Poles with glee; "Our Jews have given the Soviet Arabs a drumming!" By 1968 most of Poland's 40,000 remaining Jews were assimilated into Polish society, but over the next year they became the center of a Soviet backed, centrally organized campaign, equating Jewish origins with Zionist sympathies and thus disloyalty to Poland.

In March 1968 student-led demonstrations in Warsaw ("Polish 1968 political crisis") gave Gomułka's government an excuse to channel public anti-government sentiment into another avenue. Thus his security chief, Mieczysław Moczar, used the situation as a pretext to launch an anti-Semitic 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. Due to economic, political and police pressure, 25,000 Jews were forced to emigrate during 1968–1970. The campaign, though ostensibly directed at Jews who had held office in the Stalinist era and at their families, affected most of the remaining Polish Jews, whatever their backgrounds.

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 anti-Semitism and opposed the campaign. Some of the people who emigrated to the West at this time founded organizations which encouraged anticommunist opposition inside Poland.

During the late 1970s some Jewish activists were engaged in the anticommunist 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.

ee also

* Timeline of Jewish Polish history
* History of the Jews in Poland
** Jewish Polish history during the 18th century
** Jewish Polish history during the 19th century
** Jewish Polish history (1989–present)


Further reading

* cite journal
quotes =
last = Dyboski
first = Roman
authorlink =
coauthors =
date =
year = 1923
month = September
title = Poland and the Problem of National Minorities
journal = Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs
volume = 2
issue = 5
pages = 179–200
issn =
pmid =
doi =
id =
url =
language =
format =
accessdate =
laysummary =
laysource =
laydate =
quote =

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