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Zionism in Poland: The Formaative years, 1915-1926

jan peczkis|Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Zionism began among the Jews in Russian-occupied eastern Poland. Mendelsohn touches on the Litwaks (Litvaks): "The Litvaks, for example, were disliked by the `Polish' Jews [of Congress Poland] for being too secular, too revolutionary, and too pro-Russian (the Poles disliked them for similar reasons..." (p. 22). Unlike other Jewish authors who revile Dmowski for having stood up to the Jews, the author understands him: "The clash between the Russification policies of the Russian regime and Polish nationalism, while occasionally making possible Jewish-Polish alliances against the tsar, often had the effect of exacerbating Polish-Jewish relations. Those relations reached a new low in 1912, when Jewish support for a Polish socialist candidate to the Russian state Duma (parliament) resulted in an anti-Jewish boycott sponsored by the National Democrat party, which was particularly strong in this region." (p. 20).

. Comment      Zionism in Poland: The Formaative years, 1915-1926          

Ironically, some Jewish nationalists had found inspiration in Polish nationalism. (pp. 345-346). Instead of identification with the Polish cause, however, Jews felt inspired to follow a different road--one that would end up hurting both Poles and Jews.

Besides being pro-Russian, Jews tended variously to be pro-Lithuanian (p. 104), pro-German (107), and somewhat pro-Ukrainian. (p. 97). Even neutrality implied contempt towards Polish national aspirations, as is obvious from the following: "...Jews are a separate nationality that has no interest in interfering with the quarrels of other nationalities." (p. 100).

Endek suspicions of "international Jewry" had a rational basis: "...the experience of 1918-19, that the Jews had become an international factor of considerable significance. The very fact that Reich, Thon, and other Polish Zionists had appeared in Paris and had been granted a hearing by the representatives of the Great Powers..." (p. 107).

One professed reason Jews gave for not supporting a resurrected Poland was a fear of pogroms. (p. 41). Ironically, by long failing to support Poland, they helped make their fear a self-fulfilling prophecy. (p. 89). However, Mendelsohn does not mention the greatly exaggerated nature of the 1918-era pogroms, as verified by international investigations.

Overall, the author is even-handed in assigning blame for Polish anti-Semitism: "Having just concluded a bloody struggle for national independence, the Poles could not have been expected to be pleased with the presence on their soil of three million mostly unacculturated Jews, many of whom had been sympathetic to Poland's enemies....Objective reasons for disliking the Jews, who were so numerous, so influential, and so clearly non-Polish, were not lacking, and the chauvinistic atmosphere that pervaded the country made things worse." (p. 12).

Mendelsohn also realizes that Polish discriminatory actions against Jews, in the new Polish state, were only tangentially a cause of Jewish poverty. Clearly, Jewish poverty had mainly been inherited from the policies of Poland's foreign rulers, as was Polish poverty. (pp. 8-9). Mendelsohn comments that: "...indeed, the standard of living among the Jews in the towns and cities was undoubtedly higher than that of the typical Polish peasant." (p. 9). The elimination of the Jewish middleman, caused by the emergence of Polish peasant cooperatives, was also a major contributor to Jewish poverty. (p. 10).

In Poland, Zionism took on many forms (not necessarily Palestinianism), and was intertwined with other movements such as Yiddishism. Under Zionism, Poland's Judaism thus became politicized in pressing demands for the enshrinement of Jewish particularism and alien-ness (as in the so-called Minorities Treaty)--the demands including such manifestations of self-imposed apartheid (my term) as separate Jewish courts, a Jewish police force, Jewish self-government (kehile, or kehilas) extended to nonreligious matters, and Polish-funded separate Yiddish-language Jewish schools. (pp. 14-15, 107, 216).

The Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism) further divided Poles and Jews. It went much, much deeper than CP membership. The anti-Zionist, Yiddishist Bund was Marxist. (p. 24). Among Zionist organizations, the Poale Zion was Marxist (p. 31, 55, 140), increasingly flirting with outright Communism (p. 136), openly backing the USSR in the 1920 Polish-Soviet War (p. 148), and adopting a Communist Palestinian position. (p. 156, 202). Even after the split within this organization over Communism, in which the Poale Zion Left remained unmistakably pro-Communist (p. 322), the so-called Poale Zion Right was itself Marxist. (p. 156). The Hashomer Hatsair (Hashomer Hatzair), a Scouting-like Zionist organization modeled after the Shomer in Palestine, was God-rejecting secularist (p. 83) and eventually Marxist. (p. 85). In time, the Shomer became Palestinian Marxist. (p. 292-294). Finally, Yitshak (Yitzhak) Nissenbaum quit the general Zionist Federation, in part because, as he wrote them in 1927, "`the Russian Revolution greatly influenced your youths...'" (p. 172).

Later, evidently recounting the events of 1912, some Zionists professed loyalty to Poland, if only for tactical motives, to the dismay of other Jews. (p. 50-on; 300-on). Orthodox Jews (e. g., Agudas Yisroel) and, to a lesser extent, a religious branch of Zionism (Mizrachi), both already opposed to the secular emphasis of conventional Zionism, suggested that Polish Jews should consider themselves a religion, and not a separate culture or nationality. (p. 15, pp. 56-57). (This essentially concurred with the Endek position).

This work devotes disappointingly little attention to the Revisionists, although it does mention the Russian-born Jabotinsky as having considerable personal appeal. (p. 316). Otherwise, Mendelsohn includes statistics on migration of Polish Jews to Palestine. Between 1920 and 1926, about 40,000 Jews went to Palestine. (p. 336). However, there was also a significant number of YORDIM (returnees), some of whom alleged that Jews in Palestine treat the Jewish arrivals as bad as Poles treat Jews in Poland. (p. 260).
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