Old sores have been reopened once again with publication of a book based on inter-war Polish - Jewish newspaper archives. Jewish leaders distance themselves from it.
It’s assumed in Poland that pogroms such as in Jedwabne and Kielce were either one-offs, or even communist conspiracies. But a book telling the story of the Warsaw based Yiddish newspaper Haynt (1908-1939) by its last editor Chaim Finkelstein, written in Yiddish but now in English, claims that Jews were under increasing attack in many parts in Poland from the end of WW I. By the mid-thirties anti-Semitism became official policy.
Using the newspaper’s archives Finkelstein shows that anti-Semitism was prevalent in Poland, even earlier than it was in Germany.
The book has naturally caused quite a storm.
In chapter 4 Finkelstein writes:
Immediately following Poland’s rapid emergence in November, 1918, the physical abuses of Jews accelerated, rapidly assuming the form of pogroms. On November 13, 1918, a scant two days after Poland declared independence, Haynt (v. 213) reported on pogroms in Galicia. The news was not issued directly, as the Polish information services kept it quiet. Information was released by wire from Berlin, dated November 12, reporting that “according to sources in western Galicia, monitored in Vienna, pogroms have broken out against Jews in several towns across western Galicia. A large number of Jews have been killed, many wounded.
Pogroms in other places multiplied:
Following the Brisk pogrom and as a protest against the pogroms and riots in the country, a general strike was proclaimed by Polish Jewry. Jewish shops closed down, mass meetings were held, and the effect on the "Jewish Street" was great, but nothing really changed. Bloody attacks, and anti-Semitic hate accompanied by cries for expulsion ("Zhidzhe do Palestineh"; "Jews to Palestine") continued until the outbreak of World War II.
But it wasn’t just physical violence. Jews were subjected to economic forms of intimidation and discrimination as well.
In January, 1921 Sunday was declared a compulsory day of closure for businesses. Haynt calculated that Jews who wanted to observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays had to close their businesses for 134 days a year. Non-Jews only had to close up on 62 days a year. Not only was this law introduced to ruin the Jews economically, it was also intended to undermine religious practice and traditions of Polish Jews.
The Jewish Deputies did everything they could to combat this law. They called upon the Polish Deputies and the government not to ruin the Jews. Their words fell on deaf ears. The Polish Deputies and the Jewish socialists from the Polish Socialist Party united and supported the Sunday closing law.
By the mid-1930s things had become even worse, as nationalists under Roman Dmowski began to exercise greater influence with the death of Jozef Pilsudski…
The machinery of the state, the government, the officials, the press, all of society, with extremely few exceptions, were taken over by the anti-Semitic madness. Weird new ideas steadily surfaced for “rescuing” the Fatherland from the “Zhides”. The democratic faction (“Strognitsvo Democratitshne”), a small liberal group of intellectuals and professionals, under the leadership of Professor Mietshislov Mikholovitsh (1876-1965), fought against fascism and anti-Semitism in the periodical “Tsharne na Bialem” (“Black on White”), but had no tangible influence on events in the country. Those few Jews who had up to this time managed to hold onto their government jobs were dismissed, and that was trumpeted in the newspapers as something of a great accomplishment – a clear demonstration that the government was saving the state from a “Jewish flood”…..
...General Stanislav Skvartshinski (1881-), then the leader of “OZON”, introduced a proposal in the Diet, that the government should carry out a mass emigration (simply put, an expulsion) of Jews, and two hundred deputies supported this expulsion proposal……’
This wasn’t the first time the idea of mass expulsions was put forward. In 1926 several governments, including British and Polish, were looking at ways to solve the ‘Jewish Problem’. Britain, as we know, ultimately favoured Palestine, but Poland was quite keen on the French colony of Madagascar as a place to send its Jews. This was an idea - the Madagascar Plan - that had been going around for some time in Europe and was ultimately picked up be the Nazis. The French wouldn’t cooperate. In 1937, however, the Polish government remembered the idea.
‘...in 1937 the Polish government sent a special delegation to Madagascar to study the situation on the spot. It comprised two Jews and one Pole: Major Mietshislav Lapetski, a traveler and author of travel books (1897-1969), Leon Alter, director of “HIAS” in Poland (1880-1963), and Engineer Solomon Dick, officer of the “United Committee for Jewish Emigration (“Emigdirekt”). They returned with a report that with the exception of small areas, the climate of Madagascar was not suitable for Europeans.
The Polish historian Vladislav Pobug-Malinovski writes about the expulsion plans in the second volume of his Spiritual [Intellectual?] History of Poland (pp. 817-818). He recounts also that a band of speculators and weapons dealers saw the Polish expulsion plan as an opportunity to profit at the expense of the persecuted Jews. The account then went silent.’
Read the whole book online here.