(Deputy Rabbi Joshua Thon is rabbi and preacher of the Cracow Jewish community. He is a writer of note, and has written volumes in four languages. He has been a member of all three Polish parliaments, including the constituent assembly, which framed the Polish constitution. He is president of the Jewish Deputies Club; chairman of the Zionist Organization of West Galicia; a member of the Actions Committee of the World Zionist Organization, and a member of the Council of the Jewish Agency for Palestine.)
Undoubtedly the majority of world Jewry has a very vital interest in knowing what shape Polish Jewry’s fate took during the past year. A Jewish community of about three and a quarter million souls, and, moreover, the virtual substance of living and active Jewry-a community which, after the War, took over the leading role held by Russian Jewry-certainly the whole Jewish world must be strongly interested in what goes on there. In a few strokes I shall try to paint a picture of our positon, although I have absolutely no intention of making the picture very distinct or to paint it in colors.
This was the situation:
1. If only the political relationships are considered, it will have to be said that we had no grounds for serious complaint. The government, which has been in control of the country for the past seven years, is oriented in other matters besides those of “state.” Its efforts are concentrated upon strengthening the Polish State from within and with out. Since this government knows very well, that the Jews are an element “nar excellence” for maintaining the state, it is not inclined to limit the political rights of the Jews. But if by “political rights” one means to indicate what the state is doing for its citizens, such as, for instance, that it is giving them government positions-then we have not benefited much by these rights. The percentage of Jews in government positions is minimal. There has been no improvement in this respect.
ENDEK RAIDING PARTIES
An indication of the positive in the government’s attitude towards the Jewish citizens is to be seen in its energetic protection of Jewish life and property against attacks by the very ugly anti-Semitic Endek (National Democratic) group. Apparently there is no more stupid, unforesighted, anti-Semitic party in the world than the Endek, whose members are always ready to go on a raiding party. We really nee strong protection against them. Compared with their merciless anti-Semitism the government’s attitude towards the Jews is almost liberal.
It must also be said that the Polish government strongly and consistently supports Jewish interests on the international plane. This usually occurs at Geneva, when Jewish matters such as the recent negotiations about the situation of the Jews in Germany, or Palestinian questions, are on the agenda. In all such matters the Polish government evidences a certain amount of well-wishing for its Jewish citizens.
2. But quite another picture will unfold before our eyes when we consider the economic status of the Jews in Poland. This status has certainly grown worse during the past year. It is always thus: if a thing gets no better, then it gets worse. The economic branches upon which the Jewish population can depend for a living constantly decrease in number. This is due to some extent to a tendency on the part of the government to take over various economic enterprises. Moreover, there is the tendency, harmful for us, to crowd on the middle-man and shorten the distance between the producer and the ultimate consumer. Naturaly, this strikes the Jewish merchant or small trader hardest. About seventy percent of the Polish population is agricultural, and this part of the people is in the same critical condition here as in other lands. This population class is the center of all attention, whereas the urban population is entirely neglected. But the taxes are borne largely by the city-dwellers.
Only recently it has been demonstrated again that the urban population, and especially the Jews of this class, are willing to make the greatest sacrifices on behalf of the government. A national loan was floated which was oversubscribed three times. The Jewish population contributed the greatest number of subscribers-a fact which all but the anti-Semites, naturally, recognized.
3. When we examine the internal development of the Jewish community, we must come to the conclusion that the Polish Jews are doing everything possible to raise their cultural level and organize themselves thoroughly. True, there is much party division, not at all a pleasant phenomenon. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more evident that the Polish Jews are grouping themselves about a single ideal-that of Zionism. The number of Zionist she-kels bought up by Polish Jews has increased by the hundreds of thousands and it is clear that the majority of Polish Jewry today is Zionist. And even that part which is not out and out Zionist, namely, the orthodox, is sympathetic towards Palestine. The urge towards Palestine is inherent in the Polish Jew, not only because of economic conditions and because the economic situation is desperate, but also because of idealistic tendencies and enthusiasm for the building up of Palestine.
The most striking cultural feature are the Jewish schools. The Hebrew schools under the “Tarbuth” are particularly flourishing, so much so that the government is granting them more and more governmental rights.
Jewish political rights in legislative circles are entrusted to but a few individuals. It must be said nevertheless, that this small number of persons performs its difficult duty. If the results belie the energy expended, they do so as a result of the difficult conditions and not because of faulty management.
The total of our observations is in effect:
The life of the Jewish community in Poland is difficult but not somnolent. It works and defends itself Moreover, it not only endeavors to maintain itself, but to improve, and we know that the energy is not wasted.