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Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland 1919-1939;Jews on Average Were Better Off Than Poles on Average. The Staggering Extent of Jewish Economic Hegemony Over Poland.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Jewish scholar Joseph Marcus eschews the knee-jerk anti-Polish generalizations that typify material on this subject in favor of a thorough examination of the Jewish situation prior to Polish independence (1870-1918) and in pre-WWII Poland (1918-1939).

JEWS REMAIN BETTER OFF THAN POLES

We frequently hear that Poland's Jews were "desperately poor." This is, at best, a half-truth. In addition, poor relative to whom? Although there was wide disparity between rich and poor Jews, the overall Jewish per capita income was more than 40% greater than that of Poles (in 1929; p. 41).


 
DID JEWS DEVELOP POLAND, OR PRIMARILY BENEFIT THEMSELVES? THE SELF-PERPETUATING NATURE OF INEQUITIES

Marcus notes that Poland, under foreign rule, had missed the Industrial Revolution. He claims that what little industrial infrastructure Poland had acquired by the late 19th century had been almost entirely established and owned by Jews. Pointedly, Marcus (p. 94) recognizes its slight benefits for Poland right up to WWI. Jewish entrepreneurship tended to stay within extended families (pp. 92-93), thus reinforcing its self-perpetuating, Pole-disenfranchising, monopolistic character. Early industrialization tended to be very exploitive of working people, so there were minimal "trickle down" benefits for individual Poles.

EXAMPLES OF JEWISH MONOPOLIES

The sugar industry had been almost entirely Jewish until 1914 (p. 87). Jews, who constituted only 10% of Poland's population, accounted for 70% of licenses (p. 327) to perform business in industry and commerce (early 1920's, central Poland). Jews controlled about 40% of industry and commerce (p. 327) in the Polish urban economy (1926-1934). In 1935, most of Warsaw's 48 banks were Jewish (p. 109). Just before the outbreak of WWII (1938-1939), 55% of the Poland's chemical industry was Jewish-owned (p. 115), as were 70% of the textile and food industries (p. 113, 116). The garment and shoe industries remained entirely Jewish. In Polish universities (1929), Jews constituted 42% of its graduates (p. 67).


THE BIG-POWER/JEWISH SYMBIOSIS

One can comprehend how Poles came to think that "Jews are the real rulers of Poland" and that "Jews are getting rich on the backs of Poles". The bulk of pre-WWI manufactured products went to Russia (p. 13, 100) and other foreign rulers, thus realizing the Jewish-foreign bond acting against Polish interests. Polish anti-Semitism was more words than substance, as it NEVER developed to the point of seriously challenging the Jews' dominant status. (For example, most Polish consumers disregarded Endek calls to boycott Jewish traders; p. 245).

WHY ENTREPRENEURIALLY-INCLINED POLES LAGGED BEHIND

Marcus' portrayal of Jewish economic dominance as the default outcome of Polish ineptitude ("a static, feudal society disinterested in modernization", p. 95, 97) overlooks essential facts. The most active members of Polish society, those most capable of rivaling the pioneering Jewish entrepreneurs, had been killed, imprisoned, and exiled in the wake of the failed insurrections of 1830 and 1863 against Russian rule. (In fact, exiled Poles played a significant role in the early industrialization of parts of Siberia, the New World, etc.) Marcus' quotations of Poles hostile to progress ignore the fact that such attitudes were also common in societies that no one would consider stagnant. For instance, Victorian England, the very leader of the Industrial Revolution, had its own "nostalgic medievalism" as well as the Luddite and similar movements. The dislike of railroads by Polish farmers paralleled that of cowboys and ranchers in the American West.

Marcus states that Polish aristocrats despised economic activity, but often became very successful businessmen after emigration (p. 6). Polish petty traders, "disdainful of trade", actually increased in numbers in the 1930's at a rate greater than the disappearance of Jewish ones (pp. 62-63). Clearly, the mythical "Polish distaste for commerce" had largely been a displaced hostility actually directed at the overwhelming preoccupation of Poland's economical niche by Jews.

WHY DISCRIMINATION AGAINST JEWS

In the US, affirmative action is framed in terms of the expansion of opportunities for nonwhites rather than racist discrimination against whites. In Poland, affirmative action (using modern parlance) was likewise framed in terms of the expansion of opportunities for Poles in Jewish-dominated institutions rather than anti-Semitic discrimination against Jews. Interestingly, some influential Jews (Grunbaum, Jabotinsky; p. 230) accepted this nuance. Poland's affirmative action took several forms, including taxation, hiring of Polish government workers, and the much-maligned numerus clausus at universities. Significantly, in the 1920's, there were no pogroms (p. 355), and there was no political pressure for Jews to emigrate (p. 391). All this changed in the 1930's, in the wake of the Great Depression. It is patently incorrect to speak of economic growth equalizing opportunities for Poles, as the Jews, owing to their previously acquired advantages, got the lion's share of further economic growth. Furthermore, after the Great Depression, the "economic pie" actually shrunk, reversing earlier economic growth.

POLES AND JEWS: NO SIMPLE BLACK-AND-WHITE DIALECTIC

Marcus finds fault in both sides: "The Poles refused to accept the Jews, but the Jews did not want to be fully accepted (p. 327)" He criticizes Jewish leaders for deepening Polish-Jewish conflicts (p. 302), and for not forging a closer relationship with the philosemitic Pilsudski regime (p. 327). He faults American Jews for not even minimally supporting Polish Jews, notably in regards to significant emigration to Palestine. The "fantastic" Beck-Jabotinsky plan, for this reason, had no change of even a minimal degree of success (pp. 398-401).
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