History of the Jews in 20th-century Poland

Following the re-emergence of sovereign Poland after World War I and during the interwar period the number of Jews in the country grew rapidly. According to Polish national census of 1921, there were 2,845,364 Jews living in the Second Polish Republic; but, by late 1938 that number has grown by over 16 per cent to approximately 3,310,000 mainly through migration from Ukraine and the Soviet Russia. 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 of 1919 and late 1938, the Jewish population of the Republic has grown by nearly half a million or over 464,000 persons.[1] Jews preferred to live in relatively tolerant Poland rather than in the USSR, and continued to integrate, to marry into Polish Gentile families, to bring them into their community through marriage, to feel Polish and to form an important part of Polish society.[2] Between 1933 and 1938, around 25,000 German Jews fled Nazi Germany to sanctuary in Poland.[3]

The Jewish community in Poland suffered the most in the ensuing Holocaust. From amongst the 6 million Polish citizens who perished during the occupation of Poland in World War II, roughly half (or 3 million) were Polish Jews murdered at the Nazi extermination camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibór, and Chełmno. Others died of starvation and maltreatment in the ghettos. Occupied Poland became the largest site of the Nazi extermination program, since this was where most of the targeted victims lived. Only about 50,000–120,000 Polish Jews survived the war on native soil,[4][5][6] including up to 230,000 in the Soviet Union.[7] Soon after the war ended, Jewish survivors began to exit Poland in great numbers thanks to the repatriation agreement with the USSR. Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah without visas or exit permits.[8] The exodus took place in stages. Many left simply because they did not want to live in a communist country. Others did not wish to rebuild their lives in a place where their families were murdered, and instead joined their relatives abroad.[9]


  • Polish independence movement 1
  • Interwar period 1918–1939 2
    • Jewish and Polish culture 2.1
    • Economy 2.2
    • Rising Anti-Semitism 2.3
  • World War II and the destruction of Polish Jewry (1939–1945) 3
    • The Polish September campaign 3.1
  • The Nazi-Soviet occupation of Poland 4
    • Patriotism 4.1
    • Collaboration 4.2
  • The Holocaust in German-occupied Poland 5
    • The Warsaw Ghetto 5.1
    • Deportations to death camps 5.2
  • Polish Jews in the Soviet Union 6
    • Communist rule: 1945–1989 6.1
      • The Stalinist period 6.1.1
    • From 1967–1989 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9

Polish independence movement

As soon as the Polish independence movement took hold in 1912–1914 with the aim to put forth an armed struggle for sovereign Poland—following a century of Herman Feldstein, Henryk Eile (future Lieutenant of the Polish Army), dr Samuel Herschthal, dr Zygmunt Leser, Henryk Orlean, Wiktor Chajes among others, worked in its various sub-commissions. On top of that, Jews made substantial financial contributions to the formation of the Polish military fund called Polski Skarb Wojskowy.[10]

Interwar period 1918–1939


  • Dyboski, Roman (September 1923). "Poland and the Problem of National Minorities". Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs 2 (5): 179–200.  

Further reading

  1. ^ a b Yehuda Bauer, A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929–1939. End note 20: 44–29, memo 1/30/39 (30th January 1939), The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1974
  2. ^ Tec, Nechama (1993). Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Oxford University Press US.  
  3. ^ a b The Routledge Atlas of the Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, pp. 21. Relevant page viewable via Google book search
  4. ^ Richard C. Lukas, Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust University Press of Kentucky 1989 - 201 pages. Pages 5, 13, 111; also in Richard C. Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944, University Press of Kentucky 1986 - 300 pages.
  5. ^ Michael C. Steinlauf. "Poland.". In: David S. Wyman, Charles H. Rosenzveig. The World Reacts to the Holocaust. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
  6. ^ Death tolls in the Holocaust, from the US Holocaust Museum
  7. ^ Laura Jockusch, Tamar Lewinsky, Paradise Lost? Postwar Memory of Polish Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union, full text downloaded from Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 24, Number 3, Winter 2010.
  8. ^ a b c Devorah Hakohen, Immigrants in turmoil: mass immigration to Israel and its repercussions... Syracuse University Press, 2003 - 325 pages. Page 70. ISBN 0-8156-2969-9
  9. ^ a b Aleksiun, Natalia. "Beriḥah". YIVO. Suggested reading: Arieh J. Kochavi, "Britain and the Jewish Exodus...," Polin 7 (1992): pp. 161–175 
  10. ^ a b Zygmunt Zygmuntowicz, "Żydzi Bojownicy o Niepodleglość Polski", as excerpted at Forum Żydów Polskich from his book published 1939 in Lwów.[4]
  11. ^ (English)  
  12. ^ a b c  
  13. ^ a b Extermination of the Polish Jews in the Years 1939–1945, Source: German Crimes in Poland. Volume 1. Central Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. Warsaw, 1946
  14. ^ Street photo, prewar Warsaw, Poland Film and Photo Archive, Yad Vashem
  15. ^ Miła Street, Warsaw, prewar Poland Film and Photo Archive, Yad Vashem
  16. ^ Students at a Jewish School, Warsaw, prewar Poland Film and Photo Archive, Yad Vashem
  17. ^ The Bund Council in August 1937, Warsaw, Poland Film and Photo Archive, Yad Vashem
  18. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland's holocaust: ethnic strife, collaboration with occupying forces. McFarland, p. 51.
  19. ^ Prof. Piotr Wróbel, University of Toronto, "The Jews, the Poles, and the Culture of Poland in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries"; abstract, in Polish/Jewish/Music! International Conference program, 15–16 November 1998, Los Angeles; publisher: Polish Music Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, Summer 2003. ISSN 1521–6039
  20. ^ a b Relevant articles at www.JewishMuseum.org.pl
  21. ^ Ilya Prizel, National identity and foreign policy Published by Cambridge University Press. Page 65.
  22. ^ Sharman Kadish, Bolsheviks and British Jews: The Anglo-Jewish Community, Britain, and the Russian Revolution. Published by Routledge, p. 87 [5]
  23. ^ Zvi Y. Gitelman, A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present. p. 70. [6]
  24. ^ Joseph Marcus, (ibidem) page 34Social and political history of the Jews in Poland, 1919–1939
  25. ^ Yehuda Bauer: A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929–1939. Ibidem. Chapter 1. A Time of Crisis: 1929–1932
  26. ^ T. Ron Jasinski-Herbert, Confrontation among neighbors, Conference at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington
  27. ^ "Trudności i osiągnięcia gospodarcze i kulturalne Polski okresu międzywojennego. 2). Odbudowa gospodarki". Serwis prawno-historyczny © 2006–2009. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  28. ^ Joseph Marcus, Social and political history of the Jews in Poland, 1919–1939 (ibidem) page 41
  29. ^ Joseph Marcus , ,Social and political history of the Jews in Poland, 1919–1939 (ibidem) page 47
  30. ^ Feigue Cieplinski, Poles and Jews: The Quest For Self-Determination 1919–1934, Binghamton Journal of History, Fall 2002. Retrieved June 2, 2006.
  31. ^ The history of David-Gorodok village, section IV (tripod.com)
  32. ^ Joseph Marcus, Social and political history of the Jews in Poland, 1919–1939 Walter de Gruyter, 1983, 569 pages, ISBN 90-279-3239-5. Page 20.
  33. ^ Lost Jewish Worlds - Grodno 2004 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority
  34. ^ The Routledge Atlas of the Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, pp.21. Relevant page viewable via Google book search
  35. ^ a b Celia Stopnicka Heller, Wayne State University Press, 1993.On the Edge Of Destruction: Jews of Poland Between the Two World Wars.
  36. ^ Edward D. Wynot, Jr., 'A Necessary Cruelty': The Emergence of Official Anti-Semitism in Poland, 1936–39. American Historical Review, no. 4, October 19711035-1058.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ (Polish) Referat na temat: „Województwo wołyńskie w okresie międzywojennym. Gospodarka i społeczeństwo.”
  39. ^ Photo tour: Kopanie rowów przeciwczołgowych przez Polaków i Żydów, 1939. Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau
  40. ^ Poland, 1939, The Jewish Soldier Aharon Gafner in a Polish Army Uniform, Film and Photo Archive, Yad Vashem
  41. ^ Benjamin Meirtchak, JEWISH MILITARY CASUALTIES IN THE POLISH ARMIES IN WORLD WAR II, The Association of Jewish War Veterans of Polish Armies in Israel, Tel Aviv
  42. ^ Poland, The Jewish Soldier M. Loychter, Surrounded by his Polish Friends, Aboard a German Plane Shot Down by His Troops, Film and Photo Archive, Yad Vashem
  43. ^ a b Shmuel Krakowski, The Fate of Jewish Prisoners of War in the September 1939 Campaign, PDF (160 KB) Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies, 35 pages, 
  44. ^ Joshua B. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  45. ^ David Cesarani, Sarah Kavanaugh, Holocaust Published by Routledge. Page 64.
  46. ^ Steven J Zaloga (1982). "The Underground Army". Polish Army, 1939-1945. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.  
  47. ^ a b c Poland's Holocaust by Tadeusz Piotrowski. Published by McFarland.
  48. ^ a b Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, "The Politics of Apology and Contrition" by prof. Washington DC, June 8, 2002.
  49. ^ Casamassima cemetery
  50. ^ Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  51. ^ The Death of Chaimke Yizkor Book Project, JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy
  52. ^ (English)  
  53. ^ Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  54. ^ Joanna B. Michlic. Poland's Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present. University of Nebraska Press, 2006.
  55. ^ a b http://books.google.com/books?id=A4FlatJCro4C&pg=PA51&dq=Norman+Davies+Jews+NKVD&lr=&sig=ACfU3U2NR9gC3zptwuZb5zw0_XlJSbA3mg
  56. ^ http://books.google.ca/books?id=A4FlatJCro4C&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=Jewish+collaboration+with+the+Soviet+invaders&source=web&ots=0JfNJ6SH-V&sig=5h-DyCYRCoEOnbZ2YFgeHkaq4oA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result
  57. ^ Marek Jan Chodakiewicz. Between Nazis and Soviets: Occupation Politics in Poland, 1939–1947. Lexington Books, 2004.
  58. ^ Martin Dean. Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 1941–44. Macmillan, 1999.
  59. ^ Samuel D. Kassow. Who Will Write Our History: Emmanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Oyneg Shabes Archive. Indiana University Press, 2007.
  60. ^ Jonathan Frankel. The Fate of the European Jews, 1939–1945: Continuity Or Contingency? Oxford University Press, 1998.
  61. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski (1997). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide.... McFarland & Company, pp. 49–65. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3.
  62. ^ Summary of IPN's final findings on Jedwabne (English)
  63. ^ 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.
  64. ^ 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), pp. 37–42
  65. ^ a b Donald L. Niewyk, Francis R. Nicosia, The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-231-11200-9, Google Print, p.114
  66. ^ a b Antony Polonsky, 'My Brother's Keeper?': Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust, Routledge, 1990, ISBN 0-415-04232-1, Google Print, p.149
  67. ^ - The Polish Jews Home Page.PolishJews.orgShoah.
  68. ^ מידע נוסף על הפריט
  69. ^ http://warsawghetto.epixtech.co.uk/20Chlodn.htm
  70. ^ מידע נוסף על הפריט
  71. ^ מידע נוסף על הפריט
  72. ^ Note of December 10, 1942, addressed by the Polish Government to the Governments of the united nations concerning the mass extermination of Jews
  73. ^ Marrus, Michael Robert; Aristide R. Zolberg (2002). The Unwanted: European Refugees from the First World War Through the Cold War. Temple University Press. p. 336.  
  74. ^ Kochavi, Arieh J. (2001). Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States & Jewish Refugees, 1945–1948. The University of North Carolina Press. pp. xi.  
  75. ^ Gross, Jan T. (21 May 2012). "The Treblinka Gold Rush". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  76. ^  
  77. ^ David Engel, Patterns Of Anti-Jewish Violence. PDF file: 198.1 KB. Yadvashem.org.
  78. ^ a b Chodakiewicz: medialny "Strach" i niemedialna prawda. Press interview with Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (After the Holocaust) at IPN, gazeta.pl, Warsaw, 11 January 2008. See also, rough translation by Google: Chodakiewicz: Media "fear" and truth outside the media. Google translate.
  79. ^ מידע נוסף על הפריט
  80. ^ מידע נוסף על הפריט
  81. ^ Andrzej Friszke, "The March 1968 Protest Movement in Light of Ministry of Interior Reports to the Party Leadership," Intermarium, Volume 1, Number 1, 1997; translated from Polish by Dawid Walendowski. Original published in Więź (March 1994).


See also

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.

There were several outcomes of the March 1968 events. The propaganda campaign coupled with ORMO attack on universities,[81] damaged Poland's reputation abroad, particularly in the U.S. Many Polish intellectuals were disgusted at the promotion of official anti-Semitism, and opposed the campaign. Some of the people who emigrated to the West thereafter, founded organizations which encouraged anticommunist opposition inside 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.

In 1967, following the Zionist sympathies and thus disloyalty to Poland.

From 1967–1989

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.

A number of Polish Jews participated in the establishment of the anti-revisionist socialist government 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 socialist economy), and the security service 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), Józef (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.

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.

The Stalinist period

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.

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.

Postwar Poland was a chaotic country in which pro-Soviet communists and patriotic nationalists fought each other. Hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Jewish violence, including numerous functionaries of the new Stalinist regime.[77][78] Up to 6,500 non-Jewish Poles including former members of emigration of Jews from Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia totaling 250,000 (including Poland) Holocaust survivors.

Soon after the end of the Second World War, Jews began to exit Poland thanks to the repatriation agreement with the USSR. Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah to Mandate Palestine.[8] 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 private 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 soon to become Israel. Some of the survivors had relatives abroad. The dominant factor, however, was the decision made by Gen. Spychalski of PWP to sign a decree allowing the remaining survivors to leave Poland without visas or exit permits.[9] Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah upon the conclusion of World War II.[8] Consequently, the Jewish emigration from Poland increased dramatically.[73] Britain demanded from Poland (among others) to halt the Jewish exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful.[74] Jewish-Polish writer Rachela Auerbach, who visited Treblinka in November 1945 as part of an official delegation for the Main Commission for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes, found that some Polish peasants were digging up the ashes in search of overlooked valuables. Bełżec was similarly desecrated from 1943 onwards after the camp was closed,[75] (see: Sonderaktion 1005 for the 1943 liquidation of the actual mass graves in both Treblinka and Belzec).[76]

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, e.g. Bielawa. Dzierżoniów.

Communist rule: 1945–1989

Thousands of Polish Jews migrated, were deported or later evacuated to Central or Eastern Soviet Union and many of them survived the Holocaust. Some of them died however because of hard conditions, Soviet repressions or in result of Ukraininian nationalist's violence. Two Bund leaders, Wiktor Alter and Henryk Erlich were executed in December 1941 in Moscow as alleged agents of Nazi Germany. Some Jews joined the Polish Communist Army (Józef Różański, Włodzimierz Brus) or Union of Polish Patriots (Julia Brystiger) and returned to Poland in 1944, others were allowed to leave the Soviet Union after the war or around 1956 (Lew Rywin).

Polish Jews in the Soviet Union

The Żegota) specifically aimed at helping the Jews in Poland.

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 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.

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 ghetto uprising is believed to have occurred in 1942 the small town of Łachwa in the Polesie Voivodship (see Lakhva Ghetto). 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,[71] 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.

Deportations to death camps

The 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.

The Warsaw Ghetto

The Germans established hundreds of ghettos in which Jews were confined and starved although cruelly offered hopes of survival before eventually being subjected to genocide. 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. 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 obtained food were subject to the death penalty.[65][66]

By the end of 1941 all Jews in German occupied Poland were ghettoized. Except the children, they had to wear an identifying badge with a blue Star of David. Many Jews in what was then eastern Poland also fell victim to mobile Nazi [20] 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.[65][66] 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 Uprising of 1943 saw the destruction of what remained of the Ghetto

The Holocaust in German-occupied Poland

Only a small percentage of the Jewish community had been members of the Communist Party of Poland during the interwar 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).[63][64]

Following Operation Barbarossa, numerous atrocities were carried out in the territories formerly occupied by the Soviets, some of them with help from Poles themselves as in the case of the massacre in Jedwabne in which some 300 Jewish citizens of Jedwabne were burned alive in a barn (Institute of National Remembrance: Final Findings).[62] The Polish participation in massacres of the Polish Jewish community remains a controversial subject, in part due to the 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 other pogroms similar to Jedwabne. The reasons for these massacres are still debated, but they included resentment over the cooperation with the Soviet invaders and prior collaboration in the Polish-Soviet War and the 1939 invasion of the Kresy regions, not to mention coersion by the Nazis to participate in German massacres.[47][48]

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.[59] 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.[60] 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.[61]

While most Poles of all ethnicities had anti-Soviet and anti-communist sentiments, a portion of the Jewish population, along with ethnic Belarusians, Ukrainians and communist Poles had initially welcomed Soviet forces.[50][51][52] 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.[53][54] The Polish poet and former communist Aleksander Wat has stated that Jews were more inclined to cooperate with the Soviets[55][56] Norman Davies noted that among the informers and collaborators, the percentage of Jews was striking, and they prepared lists of Polish "class enemies",[55] while other historians have indicated that the level of Jewish collaboration could well have been less than that of ethnic Poles.[57] Holocaust scholar Martin Dean has written that "few local Jews obtained positions of power under Soviet rule."[58]


The wartime continuation of the Jewish Combat Organization.

There were 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, among them Baruch Steinberg, Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army during German invasion of Poland. 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, some of them 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 and the one in Casamassima[49] contains also headstones bearing a Star of David.

Jewish gravestone at Monte Cassino


The Soviet annexation was accompanied by the widespread arrests of Polish 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 in place of former Polish senior officials and leading personalities who were arrested and exiled to remote regions of Russia together with their families. Some Jewish militia participated in deportations of Poles by the Soviet NKVD.[47][48]

In newly partitioned Poland, 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.[47]

The Nazi-Soviet occupation of Poland

Already in 1939 several hundreds synagogues were blown up or burned down by the Germans who sometimes forced the Jews to do it themselves. In many cases the Germans turned the remaining synagogues into storage facilities, workshops, places of entertainment, or ad-hoc prisons. Rabbis and other religious Jews were ordered to dance and sing in public with their beards cut or torn. Within weeks, Germans ordered all Polish 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.[44][45][46]

Among one million Polish soldiers fighting the Germans in September 1939, 13 percent (130,000) were Polish citizens of Jewish background, who fought in all branches of Polish Armed Forces.[42] 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.[43] 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. Germans killed about 20 000 civilians in September 1939, a number of them Jewish. For example, in Częstochowa 227 civilians were murdered on September the 4th, 22 of them Jewish.[43]

The number of Jews in Poland on September 1, 1939, amounted to about 3,474,000 people.[13] In anticipation of the German attack, during the Summer of 1939, Jews and ethnic Poles cooperated preparing anti-tank fortifications.[39] Contrary to many misconceptions, Jews in Poland were not simply victims of the ensuing Holocaust. Jewish Polish soldiers were among the first,[40] to launch armed resistance against the Nazi German forces during the 1939 Invasion of Poland.[41]

The Polish September campaign

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.
Częstochowa 9/24/42     
Der Stadthauptmann
Dr. Franke

Unlike the Vichy French or the Norwegian Quisling regime, Poles did not form a pro-Nazi collaborationist government. Further, Poles did not form collaborationist Nazi units such as the 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS RONA (1st Russian).

Until the outbreak of Ukrainian nationalists from some 3,000 villages.[38] On August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany entered into a Non-Aggression Pact, the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, with a secret protocol providing for the partition of Poland. On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland and two weeks later, the Soviets invaded on September 17, 1939.

World War II and the destruction of Polish Jewry (1939–1945)

[35] continued right up until the Nazi invasion of Poland.Ze'ev Jabotinsky led by Palestine Escalating hostility towards Polish Jews and the official government support for Jewish [37][36] "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."[35] The Jewish community in Poland was large and vibrant internally, yet substantially poorer and less integrated than the Jews in most of Western Europe. Towards the end of the 1930s, despite the impending threat to the Polish Republic from Nazi Germany, there was little effort seen in the way of reconciliation between Polish and Jewish societies. Many Polish Christians held that there were far too many Jews in the country. Polish government began actively helping the

The political situation of Jews in Poland was most amiable under the rule of Józef Piłsudski (1926–1935). Piłsudski replaced Endecja's 'ethnic assimilation' with the 'state assimilation' policy: citizens were judged by their loyalty to the state, not by their nationality.[12] The years 1926–1935 were favourably viewed by many Polish Jews, whose situation improved especially under the cabinet of Pilsudski's appointee Kazimierz Bartel.[30] 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. Many Jews regarded his death as tragedy, since no pogroms were perpetrated during his term in office.[12][31][32] Both Polish Jews and Polish Gentiles had nationalist movements of their own. Revisionist Zionism had a following among Polish Jews, who also experienced the revival of the Hebrew language and a growth of the idea of Aliyah. Meanwhile, the Polish nationalist Endecja movement and the National Radical Camp were also openly anti-Semitic despite being anti-Nazi. With their party influence growing, antisemitism gathered a new momentum and was most felt in smaller towns and in public arenas. In Grodno, antisemitic incidents led to the creation of a student self-defense group called Brit HaHayal (Soldier's Alliance) consisting of stronger Jewish youth. Polish high-school students, influenced by the Endeks, bullied their Jewish colleagues to stand up. The teachers were usually afraid to intervene. Jewish children often fell victim to antisemitic incidents on their way to or from school.[33] Further academic harassment, anti-Jewish riots, and semi-official or unofficial quotas (Numerus clausus) introduced in 1937 in some universities cut in half the number of Jews in Polish universities into the late 1930s. From 1935 to 1937, 79 Jews were killed and 500 injured in anti-Semitic incidents.[3] There were also victims among anti-Semites.[34]

Rising Anti-Semitism

An ever-increasing proportion of Jews in interwar Poland lived separate lives from the Polish majority. In 1921, 74.2 percent of Polish Jews listed Yiddish or Hebrew as their native language, but the number has risen to 87 percent by 1931 already, resulting in growing tensions between Jews and Poles.[21] 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, in which an estimated 30,000 Jews were massacred directly and a total of 150,000 died.[22][23] A large number of Jews immigrated to Poland from the East, 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. More than 75 per cent of them lived in the urban areas. There was, therefore, a disproportionate concentration of Jews in these communities, with higher than average number of women, children and elderly.[24] Poland was an underdeveloped country struggling with remnants of devastating economic exploitation by the partitioners and their ensuing trade embargos (see also: German–Polish customs war). For many years, there was widespread poverty among all citizens regardless of ethnicity, but especially among the unemployed Jews – for whom the help from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was slow in coming. Plans for their retraining, considered by the Committee in 1929, were out of touch with the depth of Polish depression. The average standard of living of Polish Jews was among the worst among major Jewish communities in the world. The mostly nonexistent new job opportunities before Poland's industrialization of the mid-1930s were blamed on anti-Semitism, although Jewish per capita income among the working Jews was more than 40% higher in 1929 than that of Polish non-Jews.[1][25][26][27][28] The impoverished families relied on local Jewish charity, which had reached universally unprecedented proportions in 1929, providing services such as religion, education, health and other services to the amount of 200 million zloty a year.[29] The effects of the Great Depression had been very severe.


The Jewish cultural scene was particularly vibrant and blossomed in pre-World War II Poland.[18] There were many Jewish publications and over 116 periodicals. Yiddish authors, most notably [20]

Hanna Rovina as Leah'le in The Dybbuk.

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. Taking into account both population increase and the emigration from Poland between 1931 and 1939, there were around 3,474,000 Jews in Poland as of September 1, 1939 (approximately 10% of the total population).[13] Jews were primarily centered in large agglomerations: 77% lived in the cities and 23% in the villages. In 1939 there were 375,000 Jews in Warsaw, or one third of the city's population.[14][15] Only New York City had more Jewish residents than Warsaw. Jewish religious groups, political parties, newspapers and theatre thrived. Most Warsaw Jews spoke Yiddish, but Polish was increasingly used by the young who have not had a problem in identifying themselves fully as Jews, Varsovians and Poles. Polish Jews were entering the mainstream of Polish society, though many thought of themselves as a separate nationality within Poland. 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.[16] The YIVO (Jidiszer Wissenszaftlecher) 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)[17] 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.

Jewish and Polish culture

During the military conflicts that engulfed Eastern Europe at the time—the 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, as 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. When the Polish troops entered Vilnius in 1919, the first Lithuanian pogrom in modern city on Lithuanian Jews took place, as noted by the Timothy D. Snyder, citing Michał Pius Römer.[12] 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 western Poland was a series of explicit clauses in the Paris Peace Conference protecting the rights of Jews in Poland.


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