Discover more from memoryisourhome Substack
Poland, Jews and the Interwar Period
Jews had few rights no matter where they lived in the world.
With the Versailles Treaty at the end of WWI, the Second Polish Republic was born. Poland’s borders changed, as did, the borders of Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, were dismantled.
Poland was devastated after WWI and started the rebuilding with the help from America. America under Woodrow Wilson, established soup kitchens to feed the hungry and needy Polish people. My mother recalled that every morning, before going to work, her oldest brother took her to get a cup of milk and a piece of bread from such a soup kitchen. Polish citizens were surviving in a city ravaged by war, where everyone fought to survive. Lack of sanitation and inadequate diet plagued Warsaw with highly contagious diseases. People were helpless against the spread of tuberculosis, typhus, and dysentery. By some miracle, my mother’s family was spared these illnesses. Still, there were many times later on, when she slept in the cold of an open field in Uzbekistan, or when she saw her brother the day, he came back from Stalin's labor camps, that my mother wondered if it might have been better to have succumbed to these diseases than to endure what they were made to suffer. America also opened orphanages; many children who weren't orphans lived there because their parents couldn't care for them after the Great War, WWI. My mother wrote how my grandmother never considered sending any of her children there. She would look down at the potato soup and then at her six children. "Poor but always together, like a mother bird with her newborn chicks in a nest," she would say.
My mother was the last of six children. My grandfather died when she was one year old, in 1918. What killed my grandfather at age 36 was a simple ear infection.
Even as citizens, Jews had few rights; suffered discrimination, persecutions, pogroms, ending in the Holocaust. What saved the scattered Jews living in the diaspora, was faith, community, family and education. Ten years after the war, four of my mother’s siblings were working, two were in school while my grandmother was in charge of the family. Life improved; my mother wrote that ‘the sun was finally starting to shine even for them’.
When my mother was 10, my grandmother had a stroke and was paralyzed. She lived in a vegetative state and the siblings plunged into poverty taking care for her at home. My grandmother died when my mother was 14. In vivid details my mother describes how she and her siblings cared for their ill mother at home, her death and funeral. My grandmother was laid to rest in a traditional Jewish funeral. A white cotton burial shroud was prepared that day, her body was laid on the floor with her feet toward the door. As the seamstress worked, she talked about God. She said, "God gives and God takes, God comes and you have to go to a place where you forever rest." During the four years of grandmother's illness, my mother and her the siblings moved away from their mother’s orthodoxy. After her death, in 1931, my mother at age 14 was forced to stop the education she dreamt of, she had to earn money.
My mother described her siblings, her extended family and community. Also, she wrote about the economy, vibrant creative life, politics and religion of her times. Polish Jews were diverse, divided among Orthodoxy, Bundism and Zionism. Every group had their many newspapers, published in Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew. Those were priced low, so that everyone who could, could read them.
Orthodox Jews, observed strict religion and followed the Old Testament. They dressed according to the old traditions, in black, spoke Yiddish, a combination of Hebrew and German. Hebrew is the oldest surviving semitic language, spoken in Israel till today.
The worst pogroms, massacres of thousands of Jews by mobs in Poland and Ukraine, happened from mid-17th century into the early 20th century. Those were Tsarist Russia sponsored massacres. In Imperial Russia, Jews were forced to live in the Pale of Settlement region. This included Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, parts of Latvia, eastern Poland and parts of western Russia. The Romanovs’ reigned from 1818 to 1914; Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicolas II instigated pogroms on Jews. To diminish their corruption and inefficiencies, Tsarist Dynasties used Jews as scapegoats. One of the causes of Russian revolution of 1917 was 350 years of Tsarist abuses. Russia became a Communist country. Lenin put Marx’s theory into action. He believed that the remedy for worlds ills was a revolution. He unleashed violence on his own citizens to change the society from the inside out. Brutality was the first step. Russia became a tyrannical police state. The Gulag slave camps were implemented on industrial scale under Stalin. Stalin’s Antisemitism, as malevolent as the one endorsed by Tsarist Russia, flourished after WWII. In Russian, Pogroms means to destroy.
In the interwar years, in Poland, my mother had firsthand experiences with Communism. In Poland, Communist party was illegal, it wanted to overthrow the government. Communists were being arrested. Most were leaving for Russia, to be in the heart of the revolution.
Judaism does not favor pacifism as a value superior to all other values. It teaches that war is sometimes necessary to bring peace and is justified as a last resort. Violence is the last resort. The history of pacifism during the Pogroms (the organized massacres), is based on the futility of responding to those state sponsored killings and not on any moral or religious reasons.
The two central political ideologies of my mother’s time were Zionism and Bundism. Zionism and Bund came to exist at the end of 19th century. It was a reaction to ”State Sponsored Antisemitic” violence, discrimination and Pogroms. Each ideology took a different path and competed for Jewish recognition.
Zionism liberated the native and world Jews. Zionist’s aim was to return to Palestine, the Roman name given to Judea to distance Jews from their ancestral Homeland. In the 2nd century the Maccabees, the 1st Zionists, fought-back an occupying army of pagan Syrian Greeks. Maccabees won and they reclaimed the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem. They purified it by rekindling the golden Menorah with a tiny jar of oil that lasted 8 days. The meaning behind the miracle of Chanukah is the oil that lasted 8 days - the Miricle of Lights. Zionists believed that to preserve their identity, heritage, traditions, culture and to be free as self-determined people, they had to go back to the land of their forbearers, their ancestors. Five percent of Polish Jews left for Palestine from the late 19th century and until WWII.
After WWI and the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, Arab violence prevented the National Home of the Jewish people to be realized. The anarchy ended with the British and French taking control of the region. Under the British Mandate, from 1917 to 1948, Jews and Arabs became “Palestinians” from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi border. Jews wanted to live in Peace, Arabs did not. Pogroms on the native Jews by Arabs are well documented. The killings and massacres in the Mandatory Palestine occurred before Israel was ever reestablished. Mufti of Jerusalem, Al-Husseini, was inciting Arab crowds in 1920’s to use violence against the native Jews. He was against the Balfour Declaration. He called “Palestine their land and Jews their dogs” and for the “Slaughter Jews”, or the killing of native Jews. He preached: “Kill the Jews - there is no penalty for killing Jews” for three decades before Israel was reestablished. Mufti Al-Husseini and his crowds of terrorists were killing Jews. It was always and still is about the hatred of Jews and not about Zionism. Al-Husseini was a renowned collaborator of Nazi Germany; a key figure in fusing the ideologies of Nazism and Islamism. He sought to block the United Nations Partition Plan to establish an Arab and a Jewish state in former British Mandate Palestine. Egypt protected him after the war. Egypt is where Hamas Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood originated from. The Brotherhood sought to establish a state based on sharia law, in order to abolish political parties and governmental democracy. It led the cry of opposing the Zionist project in Palestine with language that made no distinction between Antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Today, Egypt considers Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
The father of modern Zionism is Theodor Herzl, Austro-Hungarian secular Jew. He was covering the Alfred Dreyfus affair in Paris. In 1985, a Jewish army officer was wrongly accused of being a traitor to France. The accusation was invented by the Antisemitic French aristocracy who didn’t want Jews in their ranks. Nevertheless, Dreyfuss was pardoned. The trial exposed the evilness of the French upper class. Herzl witnessed mobs, from all levels of society, shouting "Death to the Jews." This convinced Herzl that the solution for Jews is Zionism in order for Jews to live free in their own country. “Israelophobia” exists today. Israel forms 1% of the Middle East. It is an area the size of Wales with a population the size of London. Israel is the one hatred that the polite society embraces. It is labeled “white supremacist”, while some 60% of population are non-white. Israel is blamed for conducting “genocide”, while the Palestinian population has grown five-fold since 1948. It is accused of “apartheid” although it is the Middle East’s only democracy and the only country in the region to protect the rights of women and minorities. Yet the Antisemites routinely compare Israel to Nazis, while entirely ignoring the factual, historic connection between Islam and Fascism. Just like in the late 19th century, Antisemitism again has infected the progressive elites. It’s flowing down through the institutions they dominate, including the nongovernmental agencies. In 2022, the UN General Assembly issued 15 resolutions against the one Jewish state and 13 against the rest of the world, 6 countries in total, USA, North Korea, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Russia, Syria, Iraq.
Antisemitism infested our western higher educational institutions in their acceptance of Islamists, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and ISIS. Muslim Brotherhood campaigns have a continuing impact on western culture; brainwashing the progressive left to support the incubators of Terrorism. Antisemitism on the Left is very dangerous. It manifests itself in support of the BDS Movement; the cultural and business divesting from one country only, Israel. It has spread like cancer on universities campuses, targeting Jewish students around the world.
The fashionable hatred of Israel and Jews generates a steady stream of cash; it is an immensely profitable business. Terrorism is allowed against Israel and it came to the rest of the world; this fact can’t be denied. The Islamists and fascists are emboldened, going back to Stalin’s NKVD. It morphed into the KGB after his death. KGB supplied the Arab world with the old Tsarist Antisemitic Propaganda, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It spread Antiemetic and anti-Western hate to generate a widespread Muslim revolt. There are 22 Arab countries and 56 Muslim countries in the world. The Antisemites had a problem and still do with 1 tiny Jewish country.
The Soviet bloc countries and then the Palestine Liberation Organization followed Stalin’s/Soviet opposition to Zionism, turning against Israel during the antisemitic “anti-cosmopolitan” purges of 1949-1956. They succeeded in convincing the international leftists that Jews connections to the Land of Israel never existed or were irrelevant.
Today BDS supporters are walking the halls of our White House. The Democratic members of congress are overrun by terrorist supporters, whose goal is to hurt Israel, Jews worldwide and to create chaos in America, the Land of the Free. The Progressive Left had swallowed hook, line and sinker, the Orientalists creed. The term Imperialism is used exclusively against the west, in reality it is something Islam is totally guilty of. This is done in order to deny the advancements that the western culture has made.
Bund movement was popular in the 1930s in Europe. Most Polish Jews were Bundists (Polish patriots of Jewish religion) during the Interwar period. Bund was the most chosen ideology among Polish Jews. My mother and family were Bundists. Bundism came to life in Lithuania, Poland and Russia. It was founded in Vilnius at the end of 19th century by a small group of workers and intellectuals in the Pale of Tsarists Russia. The Pale of Settlement (the Western region of Czars Russia), was where Jews were forced to live. It was where they experienced persecutions and state sponsored pogroms up to the early 20th century. Bund’s focus was culture, not a territory, as the glue of "Jewish Nationalism", using the terminology of Austro-Marxist school. This created a rift between them and Communists. The Communists believed in a totalitarian system of government where the state has no limits to its authority - the state has all the power. The Austro-Marxists believed that nations should not to be organized as territories, but as association of societies, detaching nations from the territory. Bund was legal in Poland, as Communism was not. It promoted the use of Yiddish as a Jewish national language. Bundists also, believed they could preserve their Jewish identity, heritage, traditions, culture, language and at the same time “coexist” with non-Jews anywhere in Europe. Since Bund was a legal movement, Bundists were not interested in overthrowing the government. Their main goal was to improve economic conditions for workers and build a better society. In Russia, Communists dismantled the Bund instantly, but never in Poland. Bundists never joined the Communists, even after WWII. Unfortunately, Bund strongly opposed Zionism, arguing that emigration to Palestine was a form of escape and saw Zionism as a pipe dream. At the same time, Bund saw Communists as the enemy, the invaders. The fact is that Bund proved to be a failed ideology, it mistakenly believed Jews were safe in Europe.
Ignorant people are the most dangerous. The Progressive Left will never redeem itself, learn or apologize. Their disastrous ideologies are being repeated as if history never existed. We can’t compare them to kapos, kapos had no choices, for them it was about surviving one more day. Today, the Progressive Left is knowingly embracing evil ideologies to help Radical Islamists butcher Jews around the world. Israel was and still is the canary in the coalmine. It is surrounded and in the forefront of fighting the ideology of martyrdom, Islamic Jihad, which is supported by Iran, the sponsor of global terrorism.
Although they were citizens, Jews were hit the hardest as the great depression of the 1930s affected Poland. Polish economy was based mostly on agriculture and the depression lasted longer and was more sever. This also impacted the Jewish community since Jews were excluded from many places of work. Most Jews were working class people; they were artisans, traders, shop owners, peddlers, cobblers, painters, barbers, tailors, etc. Poland had 'Aryan clauses' which excluded or greatly limited the job Jews could hold, like working in government, in transportation, or teaching at universities.
More tragedy hit Poland in 1935; the great leader Józef Pilsudski died. He stood for equal rights of all Polish Citizens, After WWI, 1/3 of Polish citizens were minorities, Jews, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Germans. My mother wrote how the national, black flags hung low over the crying people of Warsaw. Roman Dmowski’s party, Endicia, was a fierce opponent to Pilsudski during his entire career. It blamed Poland's economic problems on its Jewish population. After Pilsudski’s death, Endicia became more radical. It called for Jews to leave Poland. Universities established 'ghetto benches' and Jewish students were separated from Polish students. Riots followed and Jewish students dropped out. Boycott of Jewish shops was called for and violence against Jews escalated. When the Antisemitic Endicia party grew in strength, my mother’s brother and his friends were violently attacked in the summer of 1938 when they were walking in a public garden, the Saski Garden in Warsaw. My mother remembered, “It was the most painful to see Sevek's precious hands that he had used to shield his head and face, and they were badly cut. He could not work for months afterwards.”
Warsaw, the vibrant city, was called the Paris of the North. During the economic turmoil, three of my mother’s siblings dug out of poverty, joined the working and middle class, married, and started families. A new generation of five children was born. Young people, my mother’s G, were optimistic, they believed their generation was different from that of their parents. They saw the world with a different set of eyes. Their future came to a hold six months later, on September 1,1939. My mother wrote that after the Nazis entered Warsaw in October of 1939, it was the Endicia members who brought the Nazis to the Jewish neighborhoods to point the Jews out.
A historical discovery “Class of 1926” occurred at the library of congress. In 1926, 5.5 million Polish citizens, representing 20% of the population (government officials, students and teachers from elementary to university schools signed what became 111 books, “Thank you to America on her 150 Birthday” for the aid Poland received after WWI. This also became a historical document of Jewish students and teachers who would perish in 15 years. Their names and signatures, in most cases the only thing that survived, became the only record that they ever existed.
My book, Memory is Our Home, was published in English in 2015, in Polish in Poland in 2016. The second edition was published in 2020.