The history of Jews in Poland is a long one and goes back to the founding of the Polish Nation. Both Israel and Poland already have one thing in common. The real estate agent neglected to tell them all sorts of people also wanted the hard to defend territory.
It’s a little like having front and back yards to your home and no one pays attention to the “No Trespassing” signs. Sometimes, the neighborhood bullies even take over for a while.
Genetic studies now show 40% of all Ashkenazic Jews (Ashkenaz means German in Hebrew) are descended from 4 women, who lived in the Rhineland about 1000 A.D. According to Ruth Wisse and her book, Jews and Power, we were dependent on whoever the ruler was to survive and whether we could stay in that particular place. King Casimir The Great started the Golden Age for Jews in Poland. After being used for target practice in the Rhineland, when The Crusades began. (I’m a baseball fan, so tongue in cheek, I also refer to it as batting practice. At times, it literally WAS batting practice).
For centuries, Poland was a safe haven for Jews. Then, what happened to Israel, when the Babylonians, then the Romans occurred. In 1795, the three surrounding powers, Prussia, Russia, and the Habsburg Empire proceeded to divide Poland between them. A definite case of “Might Makes Right.” Then, policies toward Jews depended on which Empire it was.
My father’s family lived in the Habsburg part of Poland, Southern Poland, where the majority of Polish-Americans came as immigrants from. My father’s family was from a town called Przemysl, in what is now Southeastern Poland near the Ukrainian border. That actually reminds me of a bad joke from Leo Rosten’s book Joys of Yiddish:
Teacher on the Lower East Side of Manhattan: Can anyone in class tell me where the Hungarian Border is?
Student: Yeah, the Hungarian Boarder is in the park with my Aunt and my mother doesn’t trust him. The first trace of a Jew in the town was in 1085 (see the Wikipedia History of the Jews in Poland article).
Anyway, except in the Carpathian and Tatra Mountains in the South, again, no natural borders. Reminds me of another story.
Pepper Martin was a player on the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, known as the Gashouse Gang. (The most famous Polish-American baseball player also played for the Cardinals and just died. Stan The Man Musial. His statue is in front of Busch Stadium). Sorry for the detour, I am known for that. Some sportswriter asked Pepper Martin, “Mr. Martin, why do you run so fast?” Martin responded politely in a slow drawl, “Well sir, I grew up in Oklahoma, and once you start runnin’ there ain’t nothin’ to stop you.” Well, it was the same for invaders of Poland. The three conquering empires ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown again and again.
For one hundred and twenty three years, Poland lived under this. It took World War I to end it and for a Polish state to emerge. General Josef Pilsudski ran it until his death in 1935.
In Jews and Power, Ruth Wisse spoke about the change from being ruled by hereditary rulers, who might protect you to the lowering of ghetto walls where Anti-Semitic parties could form. This happened in Poland between 1935-1939. Of course, the ultimate example is Nazi Germany, but that story has already been told. Then there was the Shoah (Holocaust) and the destruction of not just Jews in Poland, but three million Poles, who the Nazis considered inferiors. (Notice, I didn’t say Germans, because I wanted to make clear German does NOT equal Nazi).
Click on Polish-Jewish relations for an article about this in Holocaust Survivors Encyclopedia. I do not agree with all of it, just providing for your reading.
Here is something more positive. Click on Daily Jews.
Click on Polish Jews for another site.
I wanted to make sure the Poles who rescued Jews got credit. Click Here.
In 1939, 80% of all the world’s Jews lived in Poland. I grew up knowing Poles, so I can counter the Jews who dislike Poles because they think all Poles collaborated. Some did, but there were collaborators and people who stayed silent out of fear everywhere.
Ignorance cuts both ways. I hope even with my offbeat sense of humor at times I can help lessen it just a little. Jews and Poles are intertwined.
This is meant to be an overview, but please do not hesitate to criticize, tell me what I missed and I can add to it. Thank you for your patience, and thank you for reading.
- Why Being Jewish Can Be Like a Job Interview. (iamanauthorimustauth.wordpress.com)
- Polish Jewish museum unveils reconstructed shul roof (timesofisrael.com)
- 56,065; 19 April 1943 (pdinspire.wordpress.com)
- Jew in a Box? (iamanauthorimustauth.wordpress.com)