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No Way Out: The Politics of Polish Jewry 1935-1939 (Monographs of the Hebrew Union College) ;The Ongoing Polish Emancipation From Jewish Economic Dominance: A Judeocentric Perspective,

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The author surveys Polish-Jewish relations in pre-WWII Poland that had following the death of Jozef Pilsudski (1935-1939). Compared with most other Jewish authors, Emanuel Melzer is non-strident in his manner of expression, and he often presents both sides of the picture. However, he omits important facts, and I mention some of them, below, for the benefit of the reader.


The author brings up many political personages and political parties. For instance, he characterizes the Bund as, in his words, “socialist, antireligious”. (p. 86). Unlike those who would have us believe that Communism only influenced a vanishing fraction of Poland’s Jews, Melzer does not. He quips, (quote) The Communist Party of Poland also enjoyed considerable influence within the Jewish trade union movement. (unquote). (p. 171).

What about the “exclusion” of Jews by the Polish Right? The Jews had first excluded themselves. In fact, the Endeks, and OZON, were reacting to previously-formed Jewish ideas of their being a separate nationality. Thus, Jews, being a separate national group, would be no more welcome in OZON than Poles would be welcome in a Zionist party. (p. 28). However, the thirteen theses of the OZON, stated in May 1938, included one wherein those Jews who performed service to Poland would be recognized as belonging to the “Polish national partnership.” (p. 30).

In common with many authors, Emanuel Melzer greatly exaggerates the influences of next-door Nazi Germany on Polish thinking and policies of the late 1930's. For corrective, please click on, and read my detailed English-language review (including first comment therein with its links) of Duch mlodych.


The reader quickly learns, from the facts presented in this work, that discrimination against Jews in pre-WWII Poland was not caused by a desire to put Jews down. It was caused by a desire to reign-in the many expansive Jewish privileges. For an enumeration of just some of these Jewish privileges, please click on, and read my detailed review, of Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland 1919-1939 (New Babylon: Studies in the Social Sciences).

In spite of this, Melzer consistently follows a Jewish-centered approach to events. He treats the Jewish economic dominance of Poland as something that Jews were entitled to, and as something that Poles had no right to object to. Not only did Poland's Jews suffer. For an example of the privations faced by Poles as the outcome of Jewish economic privileges, please click on, and read my detailed review, of From Serfdom to Self-Government: Memoirs of a Polish Village Mayor, 1842-1927.

The author repeats the familiar apologetic myth of Polish Jews dominating economic matters because Jews were forbidden from becoming farmers. In contrast, many Jews were farmers in Palestine. (p. 40). This argument is doubly disingenuous. In Palestine, not every Jew could be a usurer or shopkeeper, etc. After all, SOMEONE had to raise the food crops! Nor had Poland’s Jews necessarily been prevented from engaging in agriculture. In fact, Jews in Poland had originally enjoyed considerable leeway in their choice of occupations and, even when encouraged to do so, had exhibited little interest in farming. See my review of Russia Gathers Her Jews: The Origins of the "Jewish Question" in Russia, 1772-1825.


The reader should be aware of the fact--not mentioned by Melzer--that the Jewish economic dominance of Poland was so versatile and sophisticated that it was very difficult to dislodge by the Polish newcomers to business. For a Jewish perspective on this, please click on, and read my review of Polin, Volume Seventeen - The Shtetl: Myth and Reality (Studies in Polish Jewry). It is therefore hardly surprising that some Poles thought that only extreme measures (boycotts, discriminatory practices, and even violence) could end the Jewish economic hegemony over Poland, and create appreciable business opportunities for Poles.

The informed reader can probably figure out that the situation in Poland was similar to that of the affirmative action debate in the USA today. Did the more successful group "work harder", or did it gain its dominance through unfair advantages? Does the less successful group (African-Americans, Poles) just need to "work harder" to catch up with the more-successful group (European-Americans, Jews), or does the self-perpetuating nature of inequities prevent this from being a viable option by itself? Is it all right to discriminate against a more-successful group in order to create more opportunities for the less-successful group?


Some Poles had argued that Jewish merchants were successful, in part, because they cheated on their taxes. (p. 46). This charge is supported even by Jewish sources. For instance, see my review of Private War: Surviving in Poland on False Papers, 1941-1945.

At times, Poles are faulted for insinuating that Jews had something to do with the rapidity of Poland’s military defeat in 1939. While Melzer does not raise this issue, he does provide tantalizing information that could endow this charge with an element of rationality, and this information should be followed up. The Polish military lacked sufficient equipment in large part because most commerce and finance was in Jewish and foreign hands. (p. 25). The monopoly of supply had long been controlled by Jews, and, only belatedly, had the army eliminated the Jewish middleman and begun to forge direct contacts with manufacturers. (p. 16).


The Poles pointed out that schechita increases the cost of meat by allowing Jews to engage in monopolistic practices, while the Jewish side averred that it is they who have to pay more, since Jews are religiously obliged to eat the more expensive cuts of meat (forequarters). (p. 81). The Jewish counter-argument is patently disingenuous. The Jews' extra payment was by choice, whereas the Poles had no choice but to indirectly subsidize the Jews.

In fact--and not mentioned by Melzer—nearly 100% of Poland's meat production (much higher than in other countries) was prepared according to the dictates of Jewish ritual slaughter, and this greatly raised the price of veal. Please click on, and read my detailed English-language review of Szkice z dziejow stosunkow polsko-zydowskich, 1918-1949 (Polish Edition).

Emanuel Melzer correctly points out that the new schechita law reduced, but did not eliminate, the practice. However, the author states that the new law deprived tens of thousands of Jews of their livelihood (p. 86), and that it caused such a drop in revenue available to the Jewish communities that they had to institute a new tax among Jews to make up for the loss. (pp. 194-195). The foregoing indirectly highlights the Pole-relevant economic—and not merely the specifically Jewish--aspects of the shehita issue. Moreover, it tacitly validates the premise that the Jewish system of ritual slaughter, was, in part, economically superfluous, and that the schechita system did in fact impose a hidden tax upon Poles.

Another question then raised about schechita remains topical even today. Is Jewish kosher slaughter humane, or is it a barbaric relic of the past?


Author Melzer acknowledges the fact that the imposition of limits on Jews, at Polish universities, were intended to reduce the percentage of Jews at universities to that in the general Polish population (p. 188), and NOT to eliminate Jews from Polish universities.

Citing a Yiddish-language source, Melzer describes how all this took place, (quote) The demands for limiting Jewish admissions were evidently met, for the proportion of Jewish students declined steadily from the beginning of the 1930s. During the 1921-1922 academic year, Jewish students had comprised 24.6 percent of the entire Polish university student population, and in 1931-1932, 18 percent. In 1935-1936, in contrast, the number was reduced to 13.2 percent, in 1936-1937 to 11.8 percent, and in 1937-1938, only 10 percent. (unquote). (p. 71).

The astute reader should note the following: From the figures above, it is evident that, until the very end of pre-WWII Poland, Jews were STILL present at Polish universities at higher rates than the Jewish share of Poland’s population (10%)!


Of all lawyers in Poland, as of early 1937, 53% were Jewish (this based on a Polish-language newspaper article), and this was in a nation where Jews were only 10% of the population. (p. 196). No wonder that some Poles expressed concern about the Judaization of the legal profession, and took discriminatory steps intended to limit the numbers of Jewish lawyers. However, even the ONR qualified its advocated restrictions on Poland's Jewish lawyers, as pointed out by a prominent Polish Jew who was a lawyer. To see his testimony, please click on, and read my detailed English-language review, of Na pograniczu dwoch swiatow.


Hitherto non-homicidal violence between Poles and Jews first turned homicidal when a Jew killed a Pole. This happened at Grodno (1935), Przytyk and Minsk-Mazowiecki (1936), at Brzesc and Czestochowa (1937). [p. 54, 60, 63-64, 66]. Fisticuffs and homicide, of course, belong in different moral universes.

The informed American reader can find parallels with race riots in the USA. A white would kill a black, or a black would kill a white, and the aggrieved race would turn against the other race in a collective vendetta of violence. Obviously, there had been nothing unusual about the collectivist aspects of prewar Polish-Jewish violence.
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