Following is another of a series of specially prepared articles reviewing the present status of Jewry in the world’s most important nations, with the coming of the New Year.
The observer looking back over the year 5694 in the life of the Polish Jews finds it no simple task to present his conclusions briefly yet interpretively.
From the political aspect, the situation of Polish Jewry during the year in question was very complicated. The general set-up of Polish Jewry during that year may be characterized as follows: Without giving up any of their economic claims and without negating any of their other demands upon the government this community group of over three million on the whole sided loyally and faithfully with the ruling regime.
The economic condition of the Polish Jews became steadily worse during the year and the process of impoverishment took great destructive strides.
The internal life of the group was characterized by much dissension, growing social demoralization and bitter clashes between opposing camps.
Anti-Semitism in Poland last year may practically be summed up in one word: Nara. Encouraged by the race hatred exhibited in neighboring Germany, a numerically large group of extreme nationalist youth broke away last April from the old anti-Jewish National Democratic party (Endek) and founded the so-called National Radical Camp (Nara), with “Fight the Jews” their principal motto, adapted from that of the Third Reich. As a matter of fact, they needed no teacher, for Endek youth had provided tradition in the way of many an anti-Jewish street attack. If such clashes were prevented at higher schools last year it was only because the government had taken decided steps at the beginning of the academic year, closing the schools at the first signs of outbreaks.
Except for several unsuccessful atter#pts, Polish “academic” anti-Semitism had no wide scope in 5694. But its place was very adequately filled by a gutter brand of anti-Semitism par excellence. Fed by Endek “theory” and executed by the Naras, it began in the fall of 1933 and reached its peak in May and June of 1934.
Those were difficult days for Polish Jews, who were faced by incitement such as had scarcely been seen in Poland. Stafeta, the Nara organ, became a daily newspaper and most violent of all the anti-Semitic publications, which took a new lease on life and surrounded the Polish Jew with glowing hatred.
For weeks the Jews were attacked daily, at first only in the remote provincial neighborhoods and later in larger cities such as Lodz, Wilno and Bialystok, where Mendl Lubinski, a weaver, lost his life.
The events in Warsaw are a tragic chapter in themselves. At first only half-hearted smashing of windows in Jewish homes and firms, the attacks gradually assumed the form of personal assaults upon Jews, particularly in public parks and gardens, and were worst on the outskirts of the city. The most distressing attack occurred in Powonzek one Sabbath eve in June, when a gang of knife-wielders fell upon Jewish families at their evening meal. About a dozen persons were wounded, a larger number were beaten, and the life of Ezekiel Dolman taken.
The Nara started out as a legal party tolerated as an organization, many circles believing that it would help combat the anti-government Endek forces. This assumption and the hope the Naras would join the government camp later proved to be false.
It would be wrong to think the government stayed passive to the public outbursts of the Naras. In several places stern measures were taken, many arrests were made and the Endek and Nara headquarters were sealed. The Stafeta was confiscated every other day, but managed nevertheless to print large-type slogans such as “Jews must not be Polish citizens.”
PIERACKI MURDER CLIMAX
The murder of Minister of the Interior Bronislaw Pieracki on June 15 convinced the government that it had been too liberal. The psychological thing at the moment was to look among the Naras for the assassin. Later this search was directed in other quarters (Ukrainian Nationalist terrorists). But the incident sufficed to install a government policy of suppression of all radical tendencies, and all persons “whose activities constitute a threat to the peace and order of society.”
The second half of June and the month of July were important days for the life of the country. The governor of Bialystok, Marjan Koscialkowski, who was nominated to succeed Pieracki, is a liberal politician whose terms in various offices had always been characterized by objectivity. His nomination found favor among the Polish Jews.
The government energetically began a campaign to liquidate all extreme radical organizations, established a concentration camp, interned a number of Nara leaders and caused a number of others to flee, and dissolved all Nara groups. Of course the Naras attempted to spread the rumor that a Jewish hand had played a part in the Pieracki assassination, and made several more slight efforts, as in Lodz in August, to assault Jews.
A number of other incidents which occurred at the time, among them the arrest and release within a few days of the leaders of the Jewish labor parties (Bund and Left Poale Zion), assumed greater significance than they would in an ordinary season, largely as a result of the tenseness of the moment.
The Polish Jews close 5694 with a feeling of tension somewhat relaxed.
In contrast to what obtained several years ago, the Jews of Poland took little part in the general politics of the country. It suffices to mention that Parliament, which meets only infrequently, adopted a new constitution. This extraordinarily important occurrence in the life of a nation passed almost unnoticed in both non-Jewish and Jewish circles, although the changes voted were not at all indifferent to the Jews.
Few notable changes occurred in the attitude of the various Jewish middle class parties towards the government. The Agudath Israel and the more important Jewish economic organizations supported the government. However, the Zionist party council of Congress Poland decided to revise its stand towards the present Pilsudski regime and to take a more favorable attitude towards it. It should also be noted that the Jewish group decided to sever all relations with the various other minority groups, thus following the course set by the Agudath.
JEWS AID LOAN
A government appeal that it be aided in floating an internal loan was met with great co-operation on the part of the Jewish population, and the loan was oversubscribed three times.
Parliament was the scene, several times, of so-called “Jewish debates” which were quashed when Minister Pieracki warned the Endeks the government would not support theories of race hate. A painful scene was occasioned by the declaration by Colonel Miedzjinski to the effect that “We, too, are sorry that there are too many Jews in Poland,” and that if the Endeks would supply a “decent European plan for the solution of the Jewish question” it would be considered.
The pauperization of the Jewish massesâ€”a process which began in 1929 â€” became more and more threatening each month. Before Passover of last year, twenty-five per cent of the Jewish population of Warsaw applied to philanthropic societies. In the provinces the situation was much worse, reaching an estimated 50 per cent in Lwow. No less than seventy-five per cent of the small scale Jewish traders in the towns are authoritatively said to be suffering from hunger, with no hope that the morrow will bring bread. Jewish suicides caused by economic distress are so frequent as no longer to excite comment.
FEAR INDUSTRIAL LAW
The economic plight of the Jews is closely bound up with the general economic crisis and, primarily, with the agricultural depression, for Poland is an agricultural country. The Jewish middle class was additionally menaced last year by the proposed industrial law, much discussed and much amended and finally postponed indefinitely, which provides for examinations, compulsory incorporation and a number of other things of such a nature that in the end the Jewish population would have been the most seriously affected. The law would unquestionably destroy the major part of the Polish Jewish communityâ€”and the law may go into effect at any time, despite the fact that Jewish bodies and influential individuals have protested against it and pleaded for mercy.
Jewish artisans are threatened with the loss of their source of income. Jewish bakers will be adversely affected by the government decision to mechanize all bakeries, a feat which can be accomplished only with financial aid from the authorities. The “middle man” (i. e., the Jew) has been accused of occupying too important a place in the national economics of Poland, and the government is said to be seeking ways of eliminating him.
FLOODS RUIN MANY
To aggrevate the situation came the natural disaster of the floods along the Vistula, which ruined tens of thousands of persons economically and took many lives. To the credit of the government it must be said that the relief work was carried on equitably among the sufferers and irrespective of their faith and race. But the fate of those Jews who suffered, many of them indirectly, as through the loss of the peasant’s purchasing power, is catastrophic and help for them is urgently needed.
A major worry of Polish Jewish leaders was the fact that there was no one body empowered to represent the Jewish community officially. The point was painfully elucidated during the stressful period of April to June, when a group of rabbis took it upon themselves to approach an important Catholic clergyman. The incident, instead of resulting in a favor to the Jews, is now a very sad memory.
The Jewish Sejm Kolo (club of Jewish deputies) does not pretend to be a body representing all the Jews, and what little effect it might have had is minimized by the fact that it is not unified. An attempt to create an official body failed when the Zionist central committee declared it could not join forces with a bloc (meaning the Agudath) which was not free to act according to its own opinion of the needs of the Jewish community. The only unifying step was that taken by the three Zionist executive groups, representing Congress Poland, eastern Galicia and western Galicia, which voted to create a committee for national politics.
LOOK TO PALESTINE
Undoubtedly, the country which had the greatest effect upon the life of Polish Jewry last year is Palestine. A thousand ties bind