Jews and Poles.

English: Simplified image of arms of Poland; t...

English: Simplified image of arms of Poland; the official arms can be seen at: Image:Coat of arms of Poland-official.png Polski: Uproszczony obraz godła Polski; oficjalne godło: Image:Coat of arms of Poland-official.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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).

One book I am going to recommend is The Hidden Pope.  It is about Pope John Paul II and his Jewish childhood friend from Wadowice.

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.


About tucsonmike

I am originally from Brooklyn, New York and now live in Tucson, Arizona. I have discovered a passion for writing. I have five books out now, with a sixth on the way. Take a look @ my book list: The Search for Livingstone An Affair of the Heart The Search for Otzi Griffith Justice in Space. Moriarty The Life and Times of a Criminal Genius Available now on Smashwords - Amazon and Barnes and Noble As to not bore my public with just "Buy my book," I am also interested in baseball, the outdoors, art, architecture, technology, the human mind and DNA. I learned Ashkenazi Jews, of which I am one, have to lowest rate of Alzheimer's in the world. Therefore, I treat my brain as a muscle needing a workout. I enjoy good food, flirtation, beautiful women (I am happily married for thirty years), so just flirting ;) I was considered autistic when I was young, trying to figure out if I have a mild form of Aspergers and learning from that. That is for future posts. You can also see I love history. Enjoy my sarcastic silly look at the world, and making History more interesting than a textbook.
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2 Responses to Jews and Poles.

  1. My sentiments exactly. By the way, in your story of King Kazimierz the Great, for whom the Jewish suburbs of Krakow is named for, had a Jewish wife. I could not find any mention of her name — perhaps you can locate that.

    Under Kazimierz, in Poland, was a Jewish Golden Age in Europe. It was also (perhaps 1:1 correlation) a Golden Age for Poland too.

    Funny, I also did a bit about Stan “the Man” Musial too. It was right after President Obama gave him a medal of honor. At the time I was hoping he was related to the Musial family from Toledo and of course the ancestral villages my Polish forebears. No luck there, but it was a fun daliance. A very nice man (Stan Musial). I remember my father always spoke highly of him.

    • tucsonmike says:

      Thank you for the response. I read Stan Musial’s autobiography, which he wrote just before his death. One funny story was how he and a Polish-American businessman from Philadelphia got James Michener to write his novel Poland in one year, instead of the usual three to five years it would take as a tribute to Pope John Paul II.

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